The Mentorship Program
Description of the "Close to You" Intuitive Heart Ritual of
Discovery Used in Session 5)
You And I Are One:
Close Encounters in the Imaginal Zone
Explorations of Imagination, Intuition & Intimacy*
(This article was originally published as "Close Encounters in the Liminal Zone: Explorations in Imaginal Communication." Journal of Analytical Psychology, 1996, Vol. 41, pp. 81-116; 203-226.)
Henry Reed, Ph.D.
Exploration of Transpersonal Imagery
"Let there be space in your togetherness," advises the mystic poet Kahil Gibran. Navigating the opposing shores of separateness and oneness is one of the great human mysteries.
Through the awareness it creates, consciousness brings us to life as individuals. It simultaneously separates us from the life we now consciously behold. This trade-off is lamented by many creation myths. The ambivalence it generates is one of the great dynamics of human life.
We appear to each other to be individual units because we are able to behave autonomously and independently. Yet through a process of communication we can coordinate our actions, form an agreement, and become in accord. Different human "units" can somehow understand one another, achieve a shared consciousness, experience empathy or, as is commonly expressed, be "of one mind." Any communication process that can bridge the gap that separates us must begin with understanding.
Despite the importance of empathy, not a great deal of work has been done that truly sheds light on its intersubjective nature, and most of this has been psychotherapy research (and a spin off of that research, infant observation). One of the great laboratories of human communication is psychotherapy. It should be no surprise then that the "space between" people has occupied the interest of many therapists. Their profession necessarily confronts them with the conjoint human puzzles of identity and relationships.
Psychoanalysts have usually formulated that space in terms of the "transitional space" of Winnicott,52,53 where the interaction between therapist and patient becomes related to the changes in the patient's ability for inward communication and awareness. The anthropologists' vision of that space has been "liminality," a term introduced by Victor Turner.49 Variously called the in-between time, the incubation phase of transformation, or even "betwixt and between", liminality is a concept concerning an intermediate stage in a ritual where something is in a state of transition, and is neither beast nor fowl, and it has recently been applied to the "transitional space" of psychotherapy.46 The space between therapist and patient belongs to neither one of the parties individually but to them both, and the primary issue seems to be finding the right relationship between oneness and separation. As the dialogic view of psychotherapy deepens, many analysts have begun to write about their experience in this liminal zone. In the past few years, there has been quite a bit written concerning the "space between," "liminality," and the "imaginal" as it is experienced in interaction between the partners in a psychotherapeutic encounter.
Recently, for example, Catherine Kaplinsky27 has written of her efforts to maintain the right balance between abandonment and impingement in the space between herself and her clients. Abandonment and impingement are, for her, like a pair of emotional crises that can accompany the two poles of separateness and oneness; autonomy and blissful union are the more positive pair related to the polarity. It is the polarity itself that creates a lot of the tension and paradox that we associate with the liminal zone between people who are engaged in the effort to communicate. Nathan Field writes:
Given the fact that each of us feels himself to be, and looks to others to be, a separate individual, the notion that we enter into states of merger puts a heavy strain on our credulity....Jung, by talking in terms of the "ego complex", would seem to be implying that our sense of a separate identity, however vital, is a specific structure which exists in the context of a larger whole he called the psyche....I am arguing therefore not simply that we can enter into states of merger, but that we already exist in a state of merger. From the viewpoint of consciousness we appear separate individuals with a regrettable tendency to lapse into fantasies of fusion; but if we look through the other end of the telescope we will see that the fact of our connection is primary and that our sense of separateness is sustained by a system of defences that differentiates us one from another.14
To meet the challenge of creating consciousness evidently requires a heroic effort. The unconsciousness pertaining to the state of merger is more natural and always beckons like a comfortable bed. In the state of merger, two become one, but an unknowing one, for there is no second party to stand back and observe what is happening. Jung liked and often used the term, "participation mystique" to describe the delectable phenomena of being fused with another, as found in the raptures of romantic love, in moments of mob mentality, or often enough in the transference / counter-transference interactions of psychotherapy.
Therapists have long recognized that sometimes they have adverse reactions to the client during such moments of merger. Sometimes they become "caught up" in the client's predicament and react personally rather than with professional insight. Investigating the occasions where the therapist transfers some of his or her own personal history upon the client has yielded the insight that sometimes it's the client who instigates these moments. The discovery that the client sometimes subtly influences the therapist to respond helped to give rise to the theory of projective identification.14, 15, 40, 44 Projective identification is a term used to explain the likely supposition that the therapist can be a channel for the manifestation of unconscious material belonging to the client. Whereas counter-transference is a concept used to describe the therapist's reacting to the client in terms of the therapist's unconscious standpoint, the concept of projective identification recognizes that there are times when the therapist's countertransference reaction is elicited by the defensive posture of the client. Through projective identification, the patient's shaky standpoint becomes the therapist's apparent counter-transference; the client "deposits" some psychic material within the therapist who then reacts to its presence as one might an allergen, in a reflex manner. The enormous popularity of this theory among interactionally minded analysts has tended to obscure some of the interesting questions about the phenomenon itself.
Nathan Field asks for example, "How is it possible that an unwanted bit of one person's psyche can lodge itself in the psyche of another? How does that bit get across the intervening space?"14 When we assume that the two participants are distinct entities, but then observe that one participant is behaving in ways that express something pertaining to the other, it requires us to re-examine our assumption of the separateness of the participants. Ever since Freud's dream of the dirty needle used to give Irma her injection,6 psychoanalysts have been concerned about the possibility of contagion between therapist and client. Given the original model of medical care out of which analysis developed, the issue is a profound paradox.
Jung himself appreciated the paradox and presented a profound solution. His seminal contribution was to envision the transference and countertransference processes in therapy as a mutual alchemical event, leading to the transformation of both parties. Given that an interaction between therapist and client is unavoidable, Jung established a purposiveness to the phenomenon, an ideal telos that moves the coming together beyond simple fusion and toward a specific type of psychological interaction, the coniunctio. This conjoining is ultimately symbolic of a union of intrapsychic partners, as the dominant part-personalities of the total psyche come together to produce a coherent, integrated self.
Loosely known as the marriage of opposites, the coniunctio is depicted through the alchemical pictures from the Rosarium Philosophorum showing the mating of king and queen,24, 44 a mating which involves several typical stages.
But many therapists have reported that the coniunctio is something that can, in fact, be experienced, even seen as a feature of the analytic interaction itself in less exhalted forms. "The coniunctio is an event that may be experienced in a tangible, here and now manner, in which case its rhythmical quality and capacity to transcend opposites of fusion and distance may be directly known."44 For many therapists, the coniunctio is more truly an interpersonal event between patient and therapist, which either partner can access by a special form of relational insight that is sensitive not to events within, as in insight, but to events between the self and another. Schwartz-Salant advocates imaginal sight as a channel of such knowing.1, 11, 21, 51 By respecting and attending to the spontaneous images and those felt, almost-images as a real domain of information, the therapist can, he proposes, directly apprehend the activities of the coniunctio, or the events taking place "in between."
An effect of such insight has been to shift the Jungian paradigm away from an elucidation of individuation and toward the understanding of interaction with the analytic relationship as a paradigm for heightened mutual understanding rather than the vehicle for an individual's self-understanding solely. Schwartz-Salant has described experiences in therapy in which he and his client enter an imaginal space that exists between them.42, 43, 44, 45 He relates this space to the transitional space of Winnicott. Somewhat like the transitional liminality of the therapy itself, the space between the two parties is a space in between real life and fantasy. It is neither totally subjective, nor is it actually the physical being of the two people, but something in between these two. It is in this space that the therapist and the client can "view" the play of the coniunctio. Schwartz-Salant says that transitional phenomena "refer to another dimension of existence, a third area whose processes can only be perceived with the eye of the imagination."44 Other therapists have also described the interpersonal potential of this imaginal space.13, 14 Schwartz-Salant has written:
"Two people can become aware of a state in which their subtle bodies are interacting. This is often felt as a change in the quality of space between them; it is experienced as energized and more material in nature. They are then at the threshold of an awareness of archetypal processes, a mundus imaginalis....."43
Given this opening up of the concept of coniunctio beyond Jung's initial formulation, we have to ask, does the experience of imaginal space between people occur only in the context of therapy? Is it not possible that this imaginal space is simply part of the human condition rather than a byproduct of analytic individuation and therefore available for exploration by people who are together in the context of a shared, community event, or even, by people who are just meeting? As much as therapy may be a laboratory of human communication, its therapeutic purpose, its healing focus, the power differential between the two participants, makes the interaction a special case, possibly not even the best place to explore coniunctio. Even though the ideas generated in the context of therapy may have wide applicability, it seems important to explore in a more general context the possibility of using imaginal sight as a means of perceiving interpersonal interaction. I believe that so doing will extend Jungian insights beyond a therapeutic paradigm to a more general educational framework concerning the nature of relationship.5 In an increasingly psychological time, we need to study what happens when two people attempt to communicate, not from the outside, but from the inside. Establishing a way to study this inner form of communication has been a focus of my research for more than a decade now.
The Imaginal Encounter
In the form of the experiment I've used most often, two people sit silently facing each other with their eyes closed. I ask them to use their imagination to explore what is happening between them during a three minute period of silence.
The setting for this experiment most commonly has been public workshops I've given on the theme of "Developing Intuition" or "Intuitive Communication." At these workshops there may be in attendance anywhere from 50 to 300 people, mostly strangers (some experiments, to be described later in the paper, were conducted in smaller groups of people who had come to know each other). During these workshops, participants are given opportunities to pair up, and each member of the dyad is asked to answer vis a vis a partner, "How am I experiencing your presence from within myself? How do I imagine what is going on between us?"
Introducing the Experiment
To prepare the participants for the experience, which I have variously titled, "Close to You," "Psychic Communion," or "Close Encounters in the Transpersonal Zone," I begin by briefly explaining to them how they will use their imagination as a means of perceiving.
We usually regard the imagination, I explain to my audience, as merely mental images whose origins and reach are solely within the skull of the person imagining. It is common to suppose that the imagination is merely a personal creation, or that it is a purely subjective phenomenon. We have a phrase for dismissing as meaningless an experience that comes from the imagination. We say "it's just your imagination". When we say, "You are imagining things!" we mean that your subjective viewpoint has become distressingly at odds with objective reality. In this experiment you'll see that what you ordinarily think of as subjective may have an objective component.
When I ask the participants, "Who among you has been in a situation with another person where you sensed some feeling in the air, but you hesitated to mention it because the person might reply that you were Ôjust imagining' things?" most people raise their hands. There is laughter because people recognize that situation. We have familiar phrases that also recognize this phenomenon. We say, "The atmosphere was so thick you could cut it with a knife." Or, "It was a silence you could slice."
Building upon that collective understanding, I ask the participants to consider that the imagination actually may be a way of perceiving. Romantic poets like William Blake felt that the imagination was the way that the soul saw: It is the eyes of the heart22 and it may have something to do with introverted feeling. Such imagination concerns itself with interpersonal energies, which it feels and tries to articulate in images. The effect is to extend our normal sensitivity. To use a technological metaphor, suppose that the imagination were like infra-red goggles, granting night vision to see what is not ordinarily visible to the eye. Perhaps the "eyes of the heart" exist to help us to see the spirit of what is happening in a situation, an energy that is often described in vague or New Age ways as "invisible forces" or "vibrations" or simply "feelings" but that is no less real for being hard to articulate in more sophisticated ways.
I explain that it is easy to doubt the reality of magnetic waves because we can not see them. Yet if we sprinkle some iron filings on a piece of paper and put a magnet underneath, the filings arrange themselves in a beautiful revelation of the shape and form of magnetic waves. Perhaps if we allow our emotional imagination to enter a situation, the situation itself will be seen to send off "vibrations" that arrange the images of our imagination in such a way as to reveal what is going on.
Usually, participants readily see that we can use the imagination as our iron filings to develop the image of feeling-toned situations. They recognize that imagination helps them to experience their feelings in a different way when they see what they are feeling. For example, when someone says "I'm feeling blue," the person is using the atmosphere and tone of the blue coloring to express a mood; blue is a visual metaphor to express a way of feeling. Similarly, a participant can be trained to ask, "How does it feel to be with a particular person in a given moment?" Usually words barely describe the richness and subtlety of one's feelings. On the other hand, it is easier, when one tunes into the feeling of being in someone's presence, or to the feeling of being connected with that person, to simply attend to those feelings and allow thoughts, daydreams or pictures to emerge all by themselves. Such thoughts and pictures are expressions of the feelings in symbolic form and they are one way of describing what the feeling function has been trying to track.
In order to be able to "see" with the imagination in this way, it is important that we not try to direct it. I emphasize in my training that this use of the imagination is not "visualization." Rather, it is experiencing the imagination as a visioning that emerges spontaneously. What gives images their accuracy, or validity, is precisely that they come spontaneously. The subject doesn't decide in advance how to picture the feeling, and didn't visualize a certain thing on purpose to force a picture of it. Rather, the imagination is a receiver, which can be tuned to receive information about emotional events.
I tell participants that this use of the imagination is much the same as learning to remember dreams and seek their perspective on events.37, 38 One goes to bed hoping that a dream will respond to one's concerns, yet we don't invent the dream. It is a spontaneous event, outside the conscious will. In the morning, to recall the dream, we have to tune into the feelings we have and wait to see what dream images arise. Although the person initiates the process, and therefore intentional, what is actually experienced is involuntary and spontaneous and outside the boundaries of personal control.
The key instruction is this one: To learn to use imaginal sight in perceiving what is happening in the connection, to perceive the intuitional level of the subtle communication, you must get out of the way, and let it happen. The motto I propose for this particular orientation to receiving intuitional communication is a New Age one: "Tune in, let go." To demonstrate this type of attitude, I refer people to the state of mindfulness of their breathing, giving these instructions:
"Focus on your breathing, observe it without interfering with it or trying to shape it in any way. Notice that although it is easy to step in and influence your breathing, it is also possible to be present, to be conscious of your breathing, while at the same time letting it transpire completely on its own. When you can relax sufficiently to allow yourself to be the silent, do-nothing witness of your breathing, you can appreciate the mystery of "inspiration." That one word, inspiration, describes both the process of involuntary, spontaneous breathing, as a gift of life, and the process of receiving an idea or brainstorm totally out of the blue, involuntarily and by surprise. You can learn from your breathing, therefore, how to be a silent witness to the spontaneous flow of your imagination, allowing its waves to deliver upon the shores of your awareness new insights and revelations."
The above comments conveys the style and orientation I employ in suggesting to the participants that they may trust their imagination to bring them information. Then I explain that we will be exploring some experiences involving the "space between" in a relationship with another person to see what happens. I say that we will use the "imagination" to register within our consciousness events that are taking place within a "transpersonal" domain. I call it "transpersonal" because, although they'll experience it personally as within oneself, it pertains to the experience of others also, thus transcending the boundaries of one's own mind.
Creating a Relationship
I begin the experiment by having people find themselves a partner and sit face to face with that person. Then I guide them in a non-verbal activity designed to have them cooperate briefly in a simulated relationship characterized by rapport. It is my intention that what I ask them to do in the external, physical, behavioral sphere will have its correlate in the internal, subjective, imaginal sphere.
To get them to enter a state of rapport with each other, I ask them to raise their hands up by their face, palms facing the other person. I ask one person in each pair to make faces and hand movements while the other person attempts to mirror precisely the first person's expressions and movements. Obviously, this task is awkward at first, and there is much laughter and giggling as the playing begins. After a few moments, I request that the participants in the dyads shift roles, with now the first person mirroring the second in each pair. Ever more rapidly I continue to announce role reversals, having the partners switch back and forth between the initiator and mirroring roles until I announce, "let the spirit between you initiate the movement while both of you mirror each other." At this point, there is usually another rise of laughter and uncertainty as the partners look to each other for cues, then they are generally quiet as they explore this final mirroring experience.
Instructions for the Encounter
After a few moments I stop this exercise and instruct the dyads to begin their imaginal encounter. In fact, this encounter has already begun through the exercise, and what follows is a fading away of the physical encounter to the purely imaginal. Here are the instructions I read to them:
"Put your hands in your lap and close your eyes. Take a deep breath, exhale and relax...[pause] Notice how you are feeling, your energy level and your mood... Now I want you to become aware of the feeling of the presence of your partner... Just allow your awareness to expand now until it includes the feeling of being in the presence of your partner... In your imagination make mental contact with your partner... Psychically, making mental contact... Establishing a heart connection with your partner... As you imagine making mental contact with your partner, notice what you experience... Whatever it may be, simply assume it is part of the experience of being in mental contact with your partner... Allow the experience of mental contact with your partner to unfold now, on its own, in fullness, while you simply observe what you experience... I'll be silent now for three minutes while you explore the experience of being in psychic contact with your partner."
After three minutes, I interrupt the silence with this announcement:
"O.K. now, gently and gradually let go of the experience of being in contact with your partner... disengage from the contact experience... return to yourself, into your own body, your own space, being alone with yourself... Notice how you're feeling now, your energy level and your mood... Take a deep breath, wiggle your fingers and your toes, stretch, open your eyes. Discuss with your partner what you experienced."
The room bursts into conversation and laughter. The participants are animated, their arms gesturing expansively and with flowing motions. The animated hand movements prove to have significance. I give the participants five minutes to share with each other what they experienced and then I lead them in some structured discussion as a group to further their training as observers of the imaginal.
Preparing Trained Observers
To begin the discussion session, I explain that this first round was a practice run so that they could become familiar with the procedure. After we have discussed the procedure, we repeat the process a few times with new partners for more extensive observations. I will present here in some detail the handling of the discussion following the warm-up round, as it has been the procedure through which I have obtained my "trained observers" for the experiments that follow.
I explain to them that the purpose of the mirroring exercise was simply to establish a degree of cooperation and rapport between the strangers. (In point of fact, when people coordinate their movements in this fashion, a degree of rapport does come to exist. This kinesthetic rapport has been suggested to be a channel of emotional communication.3, 4, 19 In other research, I have achieved a similar type of emotional rapport by having people imitate the sound of one another's voice.39
I remind the participants, "The first thing that we did after you stopped the mirroring exercise and closed your eyes was I asked you to be aware of your partner's presence and to imagine being in mental contact with your partner." I read again the instructions (quoted above) giving all the variations and paraphrases of the description of being in mental contact. I then request that the participants raise their hands if they found they understood what I meant when I said to "make mental contact." I ask, "Did at least one of these descriptions make sense to you?" Almost everyone raises a hand, the group nodding in agreement that they understood the intent of the instructions.
So far, the only quantitative aspect of data collection I've conducted has come through this show of hands. At this stage of the research it has seemed sufficient to note whether only a few or a majority of people observed a certain effect. No greater precision has seemed necessary.
The first result from this experiment is perhaps obvious, although it has subtle implications. It is that people understand what it means to be in mental contact with someone. The experience of being in mental contact with someone feels natural or real. People feel that it is easy and natural to imagine being in mental contact with somebody.
Yet this mental contact is a presumptuous fantasy, viewed from the standpoint of the materialistic philosophy in which almost everyone has been raised. To impress upon the participants the psychic reality of the contact experience I point out the enigma:
"Take the point of view of a hypothetical video camera recording what is happening. What would it show? The camera would record people sitting in chairs, facing one another. Their eyes are closed, their hands are not touching each other but are quietly resting in their laps. There's no eye contact, they're not touching, not talking. There is obviously no communication going on, perhaps nothing going on at all. But what the camera wouldn't detect was that obviously you experienced that something was going on. There was a lot happening."
When I suggest that the camera would record that there was nothing going on, the participants laugh. They appreciate the humorous contrast between how the situation appears from the outside and how it feels from the inside.
To further draw their attention to the apparent gap between the materialistic, externally oriented view of the encounter from that provided from inner subjective experience, I discuss this point more:
"It's a natural part of being with people to take for granted the psychic reality of making mental contact with them. In point of fact, however, we have no way of knowing that anyone else beside ourselves has a mind, much less detect that our mind and their mind is in contact. You can't see any one's mind, you can't hear it, touch it, smell or taste it. There is no sense perception to provide a channel of direct contact with another person's mind. We assume, nevertheless, most of the time, that the other person has a mind and we often feel in contact with that person's mind. How do you detect the presence of other minds? From the standpoint of a materialistic philosophy we would say that you do not detect the presence of other minds, you simply infer their presence, you simply assume other people have minds. You infer from your personal experience with your own mind that other people have minds. At least that's what the materialistic philosophy would have to say, since there is no sensory basis for knowing another mind. Yet is that how you experience it? Do you experience it as an inference or do you experience it directly? The experience you just had gives you an opportunity to observe how you actually experience the presence of another mind. It must be an intuitive experience, perhaps even a telepathic experience. This experiment is putting you in a position to explore that experience, to observe your impression of being in contact with another mind and see what it is really like."
Although my discussion moves into epistemology and philosophical abstraction, the participants' experience is more direct. In fact, should one doubt that they experience the contact as real, consider this result. When I ask them, "How many of you experienced the contact as intimate?" almost all hands fly up. Most people experience this mutual mental contact as an intimate experience. This result is most revealing of the quality of the imaginal encounter.
"How can it be," I ask them, "an intimate experience if none of the events that we associate with intimacy were occurring? There was no disclosures of feelings, no secrets talked about, no touching, no looking deeply into the eyes. Nevertheless, you felt it was intimate?" At this apparent contradiction, the participants smile and there is a look of revelation on some faces. I conclude that intimacy must be really an "inside job," something that happens from within people, that can be accessed with an introverted, not extraverted feeling.
Underscoring the intimate nature of the experience, some participants report that they felt shy about making the imaginal contact. Some reported a concern about what might happen should they "bump into this other person" in their imagination. One person said, "I was afraid because I didn't want my partner to find out things that would make her not like me." Such concerns made some people somewhat cautious about what they were doing. Their caution shows they regarded the imaginal encounter as a real encounter. It was an inherently intimate encounter. The presence of ambivalence is an important indicator of the psychic reality of the imaginal encounter and we'll examine it more later.
As part of their training as observers I explain to the participants my thinking on what is happening during the encounter: "The communication, the contact, the intimacy, although nonexistent or impossible from the perspective of a materialistic reality available to the senses, is nevertheless totally real from a purely subjective point of view. It makes it intuitive sense. It is psychically real."
Perhaps this one observation, in itself, is one of the most significant of this research. The reality of psychic contact is something that we take so much for granted that we tend not to focus on its existence. As the ocean is for the fish, the psyche is our common environment. Only during disturbances in its normal atmosphere do we come to be aware of its existence. Experiments like the ones I conduct allow participants to make observations about this psychic reality and to note variations that occur in this transpersonal, yet very intimately real, space in between them.
After the basic orientation to the experience of imaginal encounter, and a trial round of observation as just described, I debrief the participants regarding the content of what they experienced. I do so by asking for a show of hands from people who experienced a certain category of imagery. The categories (described later in this report) are based upon experiences reported by previous participants and are meant to cover almost all possibilities. The purpose of this all-inclusive poll is to make sure that every participant's experience can be seen to fit into the scheme. The intent is to encourage participants to trust their spontaneous experiences without modifying them. I am seeking to create observers who will remain true to their experience without trying to shape it in some manner:
"It is important that you surrender your flow of imagination, to let it be spontaneous and natural. While you exercise a certain amount of concentration, of focussed attention on the experience of being in contact with your partner, at the same time you remain open to experiencing this contact in whatever way it comes to you. You've learned now that there is no need to direct the experience by intentionally visualizing yourself and your partner engaged in any particular activity. Afterwards, in the sharing with your partner, be willing to describe everything that you experienced because many aspects of the experience which will seem to be at first tangential, not related, as if you spaced out or lost your concentration for a while and was off on somethingÑsome other taskÑmay prove to be quite relevant. It is important that you disclose all that you experienced to your partner, including any negative, erotic, or bizarre feelings, which can also be a natural part of this experience. If you and your partner describe to each other everything you experienced, you will have better insights into what is going on during the period of psychic contact."
To reinforce this attitude of trust and laissez faire toward the imagination, I remind them of our demonstration of the breath meditation, in which I introduced the motto, "Tune in, then let go."
By this point I hope the participants are comfortable with the procedure, that they know what's expected of them, have learned how to engage in the imaginal encounter, and also know that it's quite okay to experience whatever they experience. Hopefully they realize that they needn't be trying to "fudge" by shaping what they experience into some kind of pre-set pattern. We are hopefully ready for a genuine exploration.
I now ask each participant to get another partner. Having been trained, they find they can establish a relationship based on cooperation and coordination very quickly. I ask the partners to look at each other, to raise their hands up by their face and start mirroring each other. They are to simultaneously mirror one another's movements. After I call out, "Let the spirit between you be alive!" the people laugh as they move their hands and make faces and rock and roll their bodies. I let them do this for a minute and then I say, "Okay, let's be quiet now - close our eyes and put our hands in our laps and relax." I lead the people through the experience once again with their new partner. After three minutes of silence, I bring them out of the encounter and ask them to discuss with each other what they experienced.
Observations of Imaginal Encounter
I have led approximately sixty-five workshops on "intuitive communication" that have included the imaginal encounter experiment. The experiment has had well over five thousand participants. I've solicited and received several hundred written descriptions of aspects of these encounters. The observations that follow are based upon face to face discussion with participants as well as their written comments and drawings.
The Experience of Making Contact
How does a person initiate being in contact with another? In face to face encounters we may speak the person's name. For long distance communication, we may write a person's address on an envelope containing our message, or we may dial the person's phone number. In the case of our experiment in transpersonal space, how does the participant initiate mental contact?
I gave participants a diagram of two people facing each other [see Template] and asked them to draw on the diagram what they experienced. I also received verbal descriptions.
The most common experience participants report, active in the majority of participants, involves some kind of feeling. Perhaps sensation would be a better word, as the reports of feeling usually describe a physical effect rather than an emotional one. This feeling, or sensation, either can be externally oriented, as in feeling the partner's presence, or internally oriented, as in having a feeling in their body and attributing that feeling to the impact of their partner. The most predominant feelings are warmth and touch.
"My body was full of warmth, with a flush on my face and arms, as the other person came closer."
"I felt a click in my forehead as if the two foreheads had touched and actually integrated into one another."
"It was a sensation in my head, my forehead, like a dolphin's sonar, and it went out and it made contact and there was actually a physical sensation of bumping into another dolphin's forehead."
"There was a sense of energy that came out from me and then it met a certain warmth and I knew I had made contact."
" ..a knowing of a connection between us as we each are trying to make contact...was found in a prickling on our necks."
"We definitely experienced an energy flow between us - physical sensations. We recognized the exact moment our spirits blended and when they separated again, always leaving a wisp behind."
"I felt I was slowly reaching out and touching an unfamiliar substance."
The references to the forehead probably reflects the subjective locus of thinking or imaging, or, as in the case of the person referring to sonar, to "inner sight" or the "third eye" of psychic sight. Interestingly the hands were the most frequent locus for the feeling of warmth. This finding may be an effect of the prior mirroring exercise, but, as we'll see in later descriptions, it also relates to the phenomenon of "laying on of hands" as a way of interacting with the image of the other person's body:
"Both of us used the same mental approach to one another: with our hands as in the mirror images, and with our foreheads."
"I felt the build-up of energy between my partner's hands and mine then when we merged I felt heat and being tapped on my leg and arm. Then there was heat and my partner experienced static in her hair."
"I felt great energy flowing between us. I would almost 'see' the electrical flow of energy passing between our hands and felt it throughout the entire arm."
"I felt like we were both reaching out to touch each other's hands."
We may compare these reports with one by therapist Nathan Field, who is reporting an experience from therapy that he relates to Schwartz-Salant's44 accounts: "I have the distinct physical sensation that a flow of radiant energy is emanating in a direct line from my body towards the patient, while also coming to me from her. By contrast she feels her energy is flowing out and around me, even behind my chair, and is linked with mine; she reports a palpable sense of energy Ôlike a solid ball' in the space between us."14
The second most common experience of initiating contact with the partner was through visualization, with about a third of the participants reporting this type of initial experience. Some of these images seem to be memory images, perseverations of the mirroring exercise. Others reveal the presence of forces at work in the transpersonal zone.
"While facing each other we each visualized playing with each other like children.'"
"I start with making an extension of myself to reach him. And when I did, it just was to call his attention, smile, and look up. I almost can see myself getting out of my body and looking for this person. When I found him he was kind of evasive."
"Other person initiated our coming together by gesturing Ôcome here' to me. She pulled me up and we started chatting.'"
"It was like a magnetic beam that went straight to my partner."
One common experience is that of something of themselves moving closer to their partner. As an observer, I watched many people lean closer toward their partner as the three-minute contact experience unfolded. They would then move back afterwards at the end. The experience of moving closer and moving away may be partly a result of the suggestive quality of some of my phrases ("withdraw from the contact experience... return to yourself"). It may also be an archetypal, spatial metaphor for making and breaking the merger experience. Consider therapist Kaplinsky's statement: "At one extreme it feels as if I am leaning forwards, letting the patient know I am there, fearful he might slip away, cold and forgotten. At the other, it is as though I lean backwards in order to give space, fearful of intruding, wary of the delicate and potentially explosive space between us."27
"When we were to disconnect all the energy sucked back into my body like in a cartoon when the genie goes back into his bottle."
"We blended our minds together again with an almost physical feeling of expanding and later withdrawing."
Participants report imagining their hands reaching out toward their partner. Some reported that they experienced a "bubble" or some kind of energy that surrounds them, expanding and moving toward their partner. This imagery may reflect suggestions inherent in my instructions ("allow your awareness to expand now until it includes the feeling of being in the presence of your partner"). In some cases this bubble totally engulfs the partner while in other cases, the partner has a bubble which moves toward the observer and the two bubbles join.
"We both felt a bubble of energy between us."
"I saw what kind of looked like this two-part bubble with me and her in it. I felt kind of like we were bosom buddies travelling around in it with a bird's eye view."
Many also report experiences pertaining specifically to feeling the space between. There was imagery, for example, referring to the atmosphere ("charged air," "electrified space") of that in between space. Some report finding themselves coming up against a pressure or a resistance. Some described it as an air door or a pressure chamber. Some provided a description of the air or space between themselves and their partner becoming energized. This description is reminiscent of Schwartz-Salant's metaphoric description, the space between becomes more "energized and more material in nature" or "texturized and alive."45 This image is also reflected in the colloquial expression, "the tension in the air was so thick you could almost cut it with a knife."
"Pressure change of atmosphere advance and receding energy."
"There was a pulsation between us and then I felt we were surrounded by cold flames. My partner said she also experienced these things."
"There was the sensation of a strong current between us and I felt this combined current being carried up and into the atmosphere. My partners also felt the strong current and felt a strong light enveloping the current."
A more subtle attribute of the space in between, a quality perhaps more difficult to put into words, was the sensation of rhythmical movement. One couple, for example, both experienced a pulsing with a left-right motion, as if peddling a bicycle with their arms, a rowing or swimming motion. Energy is basically, the pulsing, or oscillation, of polarity. One of the fundamental manifestations of energy is vibration. Our language expresses the recognition of the psychic energy in a situation by using the term, vibrations, or "vibes."
What some participants describe is reminiscent of the origins of the mental image, or archetype, of energy, the mystery behind movement. They are very animated with their hands as they attempt to describe the energy they experienced.
"I felt a definite presence of energy upon mutually meeting my partner. Before the two energies met I could visualize the physical form of my partner. As soon as the two energies intertwined the visualized physical form vanished and only the energies remained. There constantly seemed to be slight motion continuing. I guess without some motion it would be hard to sense energy."
"Tuning into my partner I felt great amounts of energy coming from her in waves - like a ball."
"We both had the same experience of floating and moving."
"We both experienced a gentle rocking sideways sensation."
"I can feel energy waves very distinctly, they are palpable almost like a kind of wind blowing. You can't see the wind either, but you can feel it."
I myself have experienced this pulsing, and believe the polarity to be that of merger-separation, the oscillation of awareness of us as being one or two. Schwartz-Salant once reported that "...the energy field between us oscillated, separating and joining us in a kind of sine wave rhythm."42 The energy that is felt in the encounter may indeed be created by two observation points in the psyche momentarily experiencing their potential merger into one. In a sense, this exercise is a meditation on the mystery of separation/merger as it relates to the creation of consciousness.
Implicit in the process for many participants was the possibility of total merger, of becoming one with their partner:
"The feeling that we were both one in this same physical body."
"I could feel two hearts beating coming together as one. Then I experienced a feeling of wholeness or completeness."
"I felt her heart beating slower and slower in my hand and it felt very pleasant. Then I felt as if my lungs were no longer mine but her's breathing slower and deeper."
"I had the distinct impression that I had somehow absorbed my partner's face and that I was using his facial expressions and had the urge to reach up and stroke Ômy' beard."
"I saw her eye coming very close to mine until as it swiveled I found myself looking at my face as if through her eyes."
"I became fused with my partner. There was a swirling, something like an energy rushing through me and around me and I felt as if my partner and I were breathing the same air."
These descriptions closely resemble an observation made by Field, "A man patient reported that he felt himself sinking into the couch and the couch was my body...."14
The experience of being embodied within the partner is an extreme form of empathy, einfuhlen, the feeling into. The origin of the concept of empathy derives from aesthetics and is founded on the primal experience of mimicry.2, 54 The empathy seen in the reports of the imaginal encounter may be a perseverating residue of the mimicry of the initial mirroring exercise. In one of contact experiences with a partner, I experienced a shift in my identity as I found myself to be "sitting" in my partner's body. As I did so, I was aware of the contours of her face as if they were mine, then I experienced pain in my jaw. Afterwards she told me that she had just had some dental work. Here is an instance of what Hatfield terms "emotional contagion",19 which is a common result of physical mimicry.
This result is similar to much interaction in psychotherapy. As therapists listen intently to their clients, often they imagine how the client experiences his or her world and begin to have syntonic physical sensations. These are the result of trial identifications, in which the therapist feels as if the client. Larson described instances where moments of empathy with a client seemed to make a quantum leap for her, to become encounters of extraordinary "resonance," in which she felt in her body symptoms originating with the client.29 In my group research I have asked people to mimic the sound of another person's voice.39 The imitator often reports experiencing physical feelings and imagery that prove to originate with the person providing the voice sample. Field has reported similar observations, empathy taking on the qualities that might be a physical form of telepathy. He refers to these spontaneously arising physical feelings in the therapist as "embodied countertransference,'" yet notes that they originate in the patient's own emotions, meaning that this experience is a form of that unconscious communication we now term "projective identification."13
Empathy, identifications, projections, and other such terms have long been used by analytical psychologists to describe nuances and variations in the interaction of two parties in a therapy relationship. All of these processes are present in this imaginal encounter between relative strangers meeting for the first time.
However it is visualized or described, people experience the imaginal encounter as an interaction. That the participants experience an interaction during their imaginal encounter is our third major finding in this study. Another way of putting it is that the participants experience the imaginal encounter as real, intimate, and characterized by a transaction.
Ambivalence About Intimacy
Consistent with the psychology of intimacy, most participants evidenced ambivalence about being "close" to one another during the imaginal encounter. They expressed this ambivalence first as a hesitancy to make contact and then a reluctance to give up the pleasant feelings of merger. There were also anxieties about "intrusion."
"I would have a tendency to draw back. It took me a few tries to feel comfortable in the other person's space."
"I visualized swirling energy enveloping us both and then felt my partner need to pull away. She later reported a feeling of being swallowed up and dropping a shield to protect herself."
"A barrier went up at a certain stage. I seemed to pass right on through the body of my partner which surprised me to no end."
"I really wanted to stay out there with my partner. I was reluctant to come back. I didn't quite enter into myself completely. When I returned there was an extra warmth in me, all the way down to my ankles, as if the other person's body warmth was heating me up."
"We felt connected and peaceful. A sense of loss and sadness came over me at the end of the session."
"I had a difficulty in returning to normal [conditions] but with my partner's help and lightly smacking my hands I was able to do this."
"I didn't realize how connected we were until I was told to pull back. I instantly got tears in my eyes becoming one again."
Another theme of ambivalence was secrecy, again reflecting how much reality participants attributed to the imaginal encounter. Sometimes they expressed a concern for the loss of secrets, about being exposed; sometimes as a concern about prying into the other person's secrets; on the other hand, sometimes there was an expression of intimate delight in sharing little secrets.
"I still cannot believe how well connected I seemed to be to one person I did this exercise with. I just kept getting image after image and finally pulled myself away because I was afraid that I might find out something she didn't really want me to know."
"[My partner] described someone I'm having an affair with. He described him as definitely not my husband and said he Ôlost it' after that because he was feeling he had invaded my privacy."
"The things that my partner saw about me all made sense and yet in the instance of the secret garden room, I realized she had been able to tap into an area of deep meaning for me, yet not something that I was consciously thinking about."
"The parts of ourselves brought out were not entirely what we show the world. There were little secrets that were shared that my partner had never mentioned to another."
When asked about how they experienced initiation of contact, the majority indicated that there was a "mood shift." This shift was clearly an emotional response to the contact experience, or the prospect of it. Even though a show of hands indicated that this mood shift was very common, very few participants elected to write about this part of their experience. I suspect it is because some of the feelings pertained to the ambivalence over making contact. Such reports as I received mentioned changes in temperature, "energy" and even odors:
"I was at first nervous, worried that I was venturing out into the unknown, and perhaps could get lost. When I felt the warmth of my partner, I made the contact and the nervous feeling went away."
"When I first connected with my partner I smiled. I enjoy her energy."
"I became aware of a foreign odor that made me feel I was in contact with this person. Once full contact was made I felt a heavy unhappiness drop on me, my head dropped on to my chest and an overall oppressed sensation went all through my body."
Some participants' experience of making contact was highlighted by the resistance to being able to do so. People experienced actual barriers of one sort or another. The disappearing of these barriers signalled the end of the resistance and the deepening of the contact.
"I was paired with a man who I felt very, very different from my first partner. And it seemed like that there was a barrier between us. But as we did the exercise, the barriers disappeared and I saw both of us as seekers."
"We both experienced an initial barrier, in the form of a screen, a soft fabric screen, then it let go, dissolved, and we both felt this dissolving as a relaxing in the shoulders."
"She tried to keep me out at first. It was like hitting a piece of foam. Then she said, ÔI don't want this.' And then she said, Ôhere I am.' I couldn't get any impressions until she allowed me access to herself. Then we really connected."
"With my partner I think there was a stiffness. I found myself wanting to know more about her as a little girl, her adolescence, her life now. I tried to reach out to her but it was as though the door was closed."
A barrier is a defensive form of boundary, one that expresses one's will to keep separate. In a different experiment exploring intuitive communication, one that involved listening to the sound of another person's voice as a means of gaining understanding about that person, listeners have often reported imagining a picket fence around the person's house39. The picket fence is like a semi-permeable membrane; it marks a boundary yet you can see through it. In the current experience, we see a number of images of the boundary.
The boundary itself is an interesting symbol which deserves exploration. It is a physical and spatial metaphor referring to something psychological in nature. The family of metaphors dealing with boundary conditions are typically physical and spatial images ("close," "distant," "open," "closed," "contact," "connected," "intrusive," "invasive," "barrier," "inner/outer"). We use these metaphors so naturally that it would seem as if we meant them not as metaphors, but intended them to be taken literally. These metaphors function symbolically in that the understanding they express is still largely unconscious. My research provides some understanding of the meaning of the boundary symbol, which I would express as the "awareness of the possibility of choice." There are initially two beings, each faced with the choice of whether or not to become one. Without such a boundary, without the initial respect for the twoness, for the individuality of choice, unity would have no meaning. In this context, metaphors of boundary violation ("intrusion," for example, or "contagion") might mean that the process happened without awareness of choice, that is, by compulsion or through an unconscious mechanism. Metaphors of boundary conditions also become more clearly understandable. For example, "close" might mean "shared experience,"41 and "distant" might mean unavailable for shared experience, while "closed" might mean actively resisting shared experience. The imaginal encounter of a "barrier," therefore, would be an experience of the other person's resistance toward shared experience.
As common sense would dictate, the ambivalence about intimacy often was specific to certain pairings. People noted that with some partners they could make contact, but with others they couldn't.
"I'm glad we did this experiment with different people. My first partner was an older gentleman who was quite tired. Neither of us got anything from the experiment. The second partner was a retired school teacher who had severe difficulties Ôletting go.' We had contact but it was uncomfortable. My third partner and I had instant rapport. Our baseline psychic contact with each other was excellent with both visual images and feelings and sensations."
"I felt vibrations that were unlike mine. The person was very afraid of coming close. The second person and I were very close, and had incredible energy between us that was shared - very intimate experience!"
Remarks such as these suggest that people are discriminating. They can distinguish between a good and poor contact. There were, in fact, occasions when participants experienced no contact. Consider this example:
"I felt a resistance from my partner when I tried to make contact. I sensed a hesitancy. I can feel warmth in my hands and I want to hold hands but feel rejected. I reach out and the other person seems to disappear. I try to communicate but it's like I'm talking into emptiness, like a voice into the wilderness." Her partner wrote, "I have difficulty staying present in this experiment...too many other things going on in my mind. I wanted to fly away and one time I saw myself walking out of the room...another time I flew up and out on a flying carpet. I had a hard time talking myself down into the ground and being in the experiment, then later I hopped up and out on a pogo stick."
The first person correctly picked up that the partner was having a hard time being there and was not only not interested in making contact, but was actually more interested in leaving or going away. The experience of no contact can paradoxically validate the reality of the imaginal encounter when one of the partners is psychologically absent and that absence is reflected in the other partner's inability to make contact. People who report having nothing happen, no sense of contact, often have their partner report the same thing. Then, when switching partners, they experience something better. Perhaps they can tell from a brief meeting whether there is compatibility between them. Nevertheless, some people found their evaluation of their partner changing as a result of the contact experience.
Experiencing the Encounter
What happens when people are in contact? The imaginal experience is a subtle, fragile phenomenon, extremely sensitive to the mood of the participants, to suggestion, to expectations, and to the relationship. As with any channel of detection that is so sensitive, it is also easily influenced. In this preliminary research, my interest has been primarily to allow observation of a wide range of experiences. Thus I "trained" these observers not to attempt to achieve, or even "visualize," any particular result coming from their interactions, but simply to be open and note what happened during the contact.
As part of the discussion after the first session, I usually review with the participants the types of experiences they had during the three minute period of silence. After hearing many accounts, I have learned that they can be placed into four categories: (1) Impersonal energy images (2) images of the two partners (3) images of other actors (4) apparent mind wandering.
Impersonal Energies: As reported above, experiences of energies were common at the moment of making contact. About half the participants also reported that this type of imagery predominated during the three minute contact period and account for all of their submitted drawings. Such descriptions involve accounts of energies and lights in various patterns of movement and interaction. Partners may experience themselves exchanging heat and/or light. They may experience vortexes and swirls of light. Sometimes there are fountains of energy rising in the space between them. There may be ribbons of light or heat or energy or electricity moving back and forth between the two participants.
"Sense of warmth...saw patterns of flashing lights, like flashbulbs going off."
"Spirals, or a spinning sensation. Power source of one sort. Could speed up or slow down."
"A feeling of warmth. Bright white light diffused into a round area."
"First felt congestion in chest and rapid heart beat, no distinct thoughts, just heart beat and ears filling up. Then experienced a lot of electrical energy, felt as if floating on air current with my partner - all joy, physical body not clearly defined from waist down."
"The energy would leave my head and go to the partner and then come back to me and swirl quickly around and around me until I felt dizzy and rotated. Then very quickly it would shoot out to my partner and my body and I would begin to feel very thick and heavy then it would shoot back to me and swirl me around and around again. I did not imagine what I felt. It's almost made me nauseous with the movement."
It would seem as if images of energy patterns is one of the psyche's natural language or symbol systems for experiencing the imaginal contact. We can compare the participants' descriptions with one reported by Schwartz-Salant:
"...we both experienced this energy, which seemed like something between us...I saw a shimmering image, which partook of both of us, move upwards from where it was, near the ground...I saw the image as white; she saw a kind of fluid that had a center."42
We might recognize in these reports some instances of imagery that is like that of healers and aura readers. As Schwartz-Salant has pointed out, imaginal sight perceives the subtle body and is the medium for many occult phenomena.43 We'll discuss these dimensions later.
Fantasies of Interactions: The second type of experience is that of having some kind of fantasy involving themselves and their partner. Perhaps it is a continuation of the "hand dancing" they were doing before they closed their eyes. Or the observer may have had a fantasy of the two of them out in some setting outside the room where the experiment is taking place, going for a walk in nature, going shopping, or engaged in some kind of conversation, having physical contact, hugging or something of that sort:
"My partner pictured us dancing together in the woods with elves fairies and such then drifting into the very highest tree together spiritually. I pictured myself with her bouncing about in the sea and then drifting up into the stars."
"I saw my partner with me in a beautiful wilderness place. We were walking through lush green grass, smelling the flowers and laughing as little girls about 8-10 years old. Then we were walking on a beach in an east direction. Our pantlegs were rolled up and we were so happy. Suddenly were sitting by a campfire in the high mountains wrapped in wooly animal fur coats, cold but smiling at each other, still the same age, little girls. The last sequence was in a country home on the floor playing with dolls and a tea set. My partner also saw us as little girls in another set of scenes, playing with dolls, riding double horseback walking in green grass, laughing as best friends do."
"During the time our energy was mixing I had my hands in my lap at one point and it felt like I was cupping her hand in mine instead of my holding my own left hand in my right. I also felt she was taking me somewhere and teach me or show me something. When we discussed our experiences she said that in her imagination she reached for me and I took her hand. She said she then took me to the ocean and sea and showed me something - we kept sneaking looks at each other the rest of the day - we would get eye contact and laugh."
Fantasies of Involving Other Actors: Sometimes the partners' fantasies do not focus on each other. Instead they involve other actors, persons both known and unknown, and animals:
"I saw a lion and a lamb. And the lion licked the head of the lamb, and then the lamb licked back. Then there were two little boys throwing a ball back and forth. They had their arms around each other and they were rolling down a hill, tumbling in green grass. Then I saw green energy going back and forth between me and my partner."
"There were two bucks, two deer. They were facing off. They were pouting up their noses, wanting to make contact with their antlers. They put the antlers into confrontation and started moving in a circle. Then I started hearing a song, ÔJingle Bells, here comes Santa.' Santa's flying through the sky and the deer watch standing side by side up into the air to see the source of this singing. They then wonder why they are fighting."
Notice that in these two stories, there is the theme of confrontation that is halted or brought into question. The stories may reflect the course of the person's feelings about being in contact with the partner. Also note that in these two examples, the other actors came in pairs. This pattern of two may have relevance to the notion of the "couple," a term from the alchemical coniunctio that Nathan Salant has observed in his studies of the imaginal interaction.
Mind Wandering: The fourth category is one rejected by the participants themselves as not being relevant. I include it, however, for it may have significance; I also want to be sure in the workshop discussions that participants learn to report whatever they experience. So called "mind-wandering" involves daydreams and other subjective events that the participants label as "not paying attention" or other forms of drifting away from the experiment at hand. This apparent lapse of attention may represent an introverted reaction to the contact, perhaps a defense of the self against it, or an attempt to process it in displacement.
"I was lost in thought and wasn't paying attention. I became bored."
"I forgot about the experiment and was thinking about a movie I saw about "
These reports resemble those described above where the participants did not experience making contact. Just as counter-transferential reactions such as the therapist's boredom, sleepiness, mind-wandering, etc. may have clinical significance, so too these "irrelevant" reactions of participants, which they believe has no pertinence to the interaction, may in fact be significant. It is beyond the scope of this initial research effort to attempt to categorize such reactions, or to explain their role in the contact experience. Like so many therapists before the discovery of counter-transference, the participants believed such experiences to be meaningless, and so they rarely provided detailed written descriptions of them.
My purpose in reviewing the range of experiences that may occur during the contact, I explain to the participants, is to assure them that there is not some particular experience that I am looking for. It is very important that they feel free to, in fact encouraged to, let their imagination take them where it will. Providing instructions in the use of the imagination is a very tricky business. In the process of active imagination, for example, it is difficult to convey the notion that it is not required, or even desirable, to intend a certain image or result, and that the experience must unfold on its own, even if one finds oneself joining in as an imaginal participant. The baseline training experience of observing the breath as a model of attention has proved most beneficial in helping participants contemplate the imaginal encounter. The contact experience is in many ways a form of meditation. As a group experience, it is a cooperative meditation, but the meditation is not by any means characterized by any rote activities. There is no other focus for the meditation save that of mutually focusing on the contact between the two participants. I found that it was important to emphasize this attitude to counteract many participants' assumption that they should be "doing" something.
I do, however, give them enough time to discover that their own experience has patterns. I provide them with two to three more opportunities to explore the contact experiences, sometimes with the same partner and sometimes with new partners. I have noted that switching to a new partner tends to bring up some feelings about separation that was part of the contact experience itself, further attesting to its psychological reality.
Separation and Terminating the Encounter
At the end of the contact experience, I asked participants to describe how they broke off the encounter. The question usually creates some puzzlement on their faces. It's not something they paid much attention to during the process. Only in retrospect did they recognize it as something that did happen. The most common report was "pulling back." As I give the instruction, "withdraw from the contact experience... return to yourself," I see many people's bodies lean back in their chairs, echoing Kaplinsky's observation, previously cited above. (In case the word, "withdraw" was too suggestive of a physical maneuver, I have recently substituted the word "disengage," believing that it is a more neutral metaphor.) Participants also report imagery such as "a screen coming down separating us," or "my bubble closing around me," or "the light that was around her zapping back into my forehead."
The reports of terminating the contact experience have generally not been as lucid as those of the imaginal interaction itself. I believe that this lack of awareness of the separation process to be quite significant. A few participants mentioned that the contact experience was one of feelings and images and it seemed that switching to a more intellectual mode, thinking, was part of the process of separating. Hearing these comments, I realized that the veil separating them was very thin, a matter of the focus of attention. At subsequent workshops, therefore, during the discussion session, I would ask participants to notice if there was any remaining or residual sense that the contact between them and their partners was continuing on some other level. There would be an immediate look of amused surprise on their faces and the majority of hands would fly up. It is clear that the sense of separation is a constructed experience, what I term the "fig leaf effect." The contact experience is always potentially available as an underlying reality when attention is directed toward the imaginal zone.
As already mentioned, many participants reported a sense of sadness at breaking the contact. There was a hesitancy to come back because the contact experience, brief as it was, was a pleasant one. It was sometimes unpleasant to break it off, and several made reference to how it wasn't easy to separate:
One described it as something like "a taffy pulling feeling."
"We were so strongly bonded we both had to physically move ourselves back to break the bond."
"When it was time to return to myself we both saw and felt a kind of a vacuum cylinder tube going into my third eye that just swooshed back into itself."
"I really wanted to stay out there with my partner. I was reluctant to come back. I didn't quite enter back into myself completely. When I returned there was an extra warmth in me, all the way down to my ankles, as if the other person's body warmth was heating me up."
One woman who reported that she didn't want to quit the contact said she got a headache when she did separate. When we discussed the experience, she revealed that she felt very peaceful while in contact and forgot all about herself. When I gave the instructions to separate, she didn't want to do so, but finally complied with some effort, but found herself still thinking about the experience.
Psychotherapists will recognize the theme of attachment and loss in this last report.30 A merger experience is destined to be surrendered. This subject felt some sadness, perhaps even some anger about that separation, with the resulting headache. She explained that her mother had recently died and she was still recovering from this loss. The imaginal contact with her partner had stirred up her feelings about feeling close and feeling loss. She also experienced some disorientation after the separation. Her report is suggestive of borderline symptomatology. Schwartz-Salant has, in fact, shown that the domain of the imaginal encounter to be the necessary medium of healing of borderline processes.45 Here borderline may best be understood not so much as a pathological condition lying between psychosis and neurosis, but concerning processes that occupy the borderline, or boundary, of self and not-self. This theme will become a leit-motif of the imaginal encounter. The borderline we are exploring here concerns the mystery of the polarity between union and individuality.
Empathy or Projective Identification? Whose Feelings are these?
One of the most outstanding characteristics of borderline process is that of confusion of boundaries. In particular, the ownership of feelings becomes confusing in an interplay of unconscious communication. As many writers have pointed out, projective identification is a "borderline" process involving a "contamination" of feeling from one person to another.14, 15, 20, 44, 47 The terminology and what the terms refer to can be confusing. Rosemary Gordon, for example, has found that Jung used such terms as "primitive identity," "contamination," "psychic infection," and "feeling into" to describe instances of the merger and intermingling of feelings between people, but most often he used the term of Levy-Bruhl, "participation mystique."15 Many participants in our experiments in the imaginal encounter reported leaving the interaction with a feeling or mood that turned out to originate with the partner.
"My partner said she had experienced a sharp pain in her left shoulder area. I have been going to a chiropractor for two years receiving treatment in my left shoulder and neck area. Although the pain is much reduced, I was having some discomfort there by that time of the day."
"I immediately found my shoulders tighten stiff and experienced a definite shortness of breath feeling that my breathing was only going partway down into my lungs. The woman I was working with told me that her shoulders and neck ached terribly from sitting in the straight chair all day and that the shortness of breath referred to her only having one lung."
"I felt very heavy and tight in the chest. Afterwards I learned that my partner had just gotten over pneumonia."
"I received a pain in my shoulder which I did not have before. My partner admitted she was having pain in her shoulders. Feeling someone else's pain certainly builds rapport very quickly, getting rid of that pain that isn't mine is a problem."
Shall we view these examples of mysterious participation in another's reality as cases of psychic contamination, unconscious communication, projective identification or of empathy? Even though the partner's are face to face, directly within each other's presence, perhaps nevertheless we should speak of "telepathic" empathy to suggest a direct, mind-to-mind link. And we have to decide how "normal" the phenomenon is. One distinguishing feature might be whether or not the "receiver" was aware, or suspected, that the feeling was not of one's own. In some cases, the perceiver immediately suspects that it originates with the partner, and in other cases they claim it for their own and then are surprised to learn that it matches something within the partner. We may wish to restrain the use of the term projective identification, which has a pathological or at least an "abnormal" connotation, to those situations where the contamination serves a defensive purpose for the originator, who might "transplant" the feeling into the partner. Perhaps psychic contamination is a better term when the transplanting of the feeling is unintentional or serves no defensive purpose. Such contamination could be a "normal" hazard of close contact.
Consider these cases where the person who was the source of the emotion was unaware of that emotion during the interaction, but in some cases recognized it upon hearing about it from the person who "picked it up."
"I felt a sense of reluctance from my partner as we were making contact. Once full contact was made I felt a heavy unhappiness drop on me, my head dropped on to my chest and an overall oppressed sensation went all through my body. I felt confused because there was no sense of dialogue or direct communication. In talking with the woman afterwards, I got the definite feeling that the she was being depressed by something by some of her quick denials and nervousness."
"When I was tuning into my partner I saw her with shorter hair and an upside down bicycle. I saw her and I arm in arm. I then swallowed and swallowed and felt as if I had to cough, but didn't want to. I swallowed again but the urge was so strong I felt as if I was choking. My eyes started to water and I had to leave the room to relieve the choking feeling. The choking and cough then left. My partner then said she used to have a shorter hairstyle and she had to go to a specialist when she was young because she would swallow wrong and start coughing and choking with watering eyes. When she felt me choking, she soothed her throat as she was taught and my cough left. We both sensed swirling. The amazing thing is that I was actually choking as she used to do."
"I felt during the whole three minutes a pressure and dull ache across my chest. My impression was heartache. I also felt my heart beating faster. During the feedback phase, my partner was going through the last stages of divorce and he had been through a lot of heartache. He was imagining himself and me dancing. Thus the fast heart rate. I had just come back from a week of folk dancing seminar. I also had recently been through four weeks' separation from my boyfriend which my chest did feel that same way."
These examples show that there is definitely a transfer
of meaningful emotions and feelings during the imaginal encounter. The
respective role of the originator and perceiver remains unclear, as well
as what purpose the transfer may serve. The last example does suggest, "like
or, in the jargon of psychoanalysis, that projective identification finds
a welcoming home in the countertransferential inclination. As we gather
further evidence concerning the nature of the imaginal encounter, perhaps
we will be able to clarify some of these questions.
The Effects of the Encounter
Aside from the pains and moods that some "picked up," there were many other reports of mood shifts. Specifically, many expressed a feeling of pleasure or satisfaction. They felt better than before. At least half the participants agreed with the general characterization that upon going into the experience they felt some shyness, some loneliness or self-consciousness, but that after the experience they felt pleasure, felt good about themselves, confident, refreshed, at peace, and connected with their partner. These are the kinds of affects that come from being close, that attachment theory says that we get from being connected.
A great number of people mentioned how they felt closer to their partner as a result of the experience. For not talking or exchanging information, note in the descriptions that the effects of shared intimacy are clearly present in the following reports.
"I believe that my partner feels more at ease with the situation and we now share a friendly intimacy between us that we probably would not have known."
"The identical visualizations, the feeling, the warmth, the sensation of closeness and understanding, letting down of the walls to lay open the possibilities of showing self completely. Almost soul-bonded."
"We both felt a contact and we both were walking and talking about family. There was a feeling of happiness and camaraderie between us. The experiment makes me feel more warmth for the other person."
"I felt very close to the person I interacted with. It was though I had always known her."
"That we could feel each other's pain and feel the actual warmth flow between our hands without touching and tingling in fingers. We feel very close even without past acquaintance."
"I felt a warm, friendly feeling unlike tense, nervous feeling I expected to feel with a stranger. I thought it was interesting he felt me smile."
"I feel I know her more than just an acquaintance."
"My partner and I were both amazed that you could feel that comfortable with a total stranger. It was like a longtime knowing of one another."
"We developed quickly an affinity and hope to correspond."
As part of this closeness there was a sharing that they recognized was rare, they shared secrets, they were close as with few people:
"Both of us felt a warm, closeness as one would feel between best of friends - and yet we had just met not long ago. There was a willingness to allow each other access to those private thoughts, feelings we shield from others we come in contact with. After the exercise I hugged her as I would a cherished friend."
"We really connected. She was very different in her feelings about herself than I am. I was able to feel how solid and supportive she is. That feeling has continued since that moment. The parts of ourselves brought out were not entirely what we show the world. There were little secrets that were shared that my partner had never mentioned to another. When we were complete we were still part of one another. She could still smell my essence and I could feel her presence. We felt a degree of love and warmth that would be unheard of in the short time we shared. We knew we'd see each other again soon with no concern for contact, or phone or letter."
"There was a feeling of closeness as though I knew this person on another dimension. A nonverbal communication, as though I have an intuition about this and something that is happening in their life, but we've just met for the first time physically yet it feels comfortable to talk about something very personal."
These descriptions are reminiscent of Jung's discussion of kinship libido in his seminal work on the phenomenon of transference in the analytic encounter. Jung defined kinship libido as an instinct for human connection and described it as "the satisfying feeling of belonging together."23 Schwartz-Salant made many references to experiences of kinship libido in his imaginal encounters with his patients. In one case, he reported that after a moment of imaginal relating, his client said "she now felt I was her friend, that it felt like an I-Thou relationship, a blood relationship, like siblings...."42
"My partner and I could feel our energy outside of our body; meeting, actually touching. I could also feel her feelings of happiness, joy, excitement. Because of the experience we do have more of an affinity towards each other. By that I mean we both just feel closer and have more intimate sort of bonding with each other."
"We felt like we had actually touched each other by warmth. The second time we 'found' each other immediately and felt very comfortable when embracing--like old friends. It makes me feel like I have actually made a new friend whom I know."
There is further evidence of a transformation taking place in the perceived relationship between the partners. Sometimes they described their newfound rapport as a change of heart, as a new attitude about the person. The general theme was the reminder that you can't judge a person by appearances, but by the inside, the essence. This change of heart seems to be a change from a relationship at the persona level to a feeling of connection via kinship libido.
"You don't feel like strangers anymore. All the preconceived notions your ego constructed about the other person from the way they look dissolve."
"The experience was almost stupefying to both of us. At the beginning I was disappointed in the woman with whom I was paired. For some reason I did not like her but the experiment could not have had a better outcome. I knew what I had experienced but she described every single movement and feeling that occurred which was extremely different totally from that which my husband and I experienced. The end result made me ashamed that I had succumbed to a bad snap judgment about her. She was really a very nice woman. She chatted very easily afterwards and her somewhat surly attitude disappeared. If someone had taken separate accounts from us there would have been no doubt that there was an ESP contact."
"The mental contact exercise was done with a stranger and although I felt that she was a nice person, I still felt somewhat guarded. I saw her with a baby when I tried to tune into her problem. Afterwards she told me that she was having a problem with her 15 year old who is considered her baby. I have a 14 year old daughter and could understand some of her concerns. I also felt that she needed to let what society thought of her go - live to her own convictions. As soon as I told her this, I knew I was speaking to myself. After we talked over our problems a little it was nice to have another view on the situation. I talked with her about something that I had discussed with few people."
In addition to this sense of connection with the other person, some participants reported a sense of healing or improvement in mood. The contact experience left many participants feeling pleasant or positive:
"I have distinct feelings that more happened between us than I am able to know now. I feel enriched and whole as a result. None of this would mean much to a skeptic, but I know some healing happened for me."
This last statement refers to the transformative power that Schwartz-Salant has often observed in connection with contact with this imaginal area of interpersonal connection.44 It is a testament to the healing power of "kinship libido."
Sexuality in the Contact
After a demonstration of the imaginal encounter, where I had guided the participants to simply make contact, then let it go without further exploration, one of the participants said, "You told us not to stay there very long, and so I didn't feel like I could go all the way." At the use of the phrase "all the way" everybody laughed. There was an immediate recognition that the phrase, with its sexual meaning, pertained to what we were doing. Field commented that the imaginal encounter felt like the "quintessence of coitus."14 Schwartz-Salant has made several observations on how the imaginal encounter has sexual overtones.42, 45 A few participants in the workshops made similar observations.
"My first partner was a young person. I have had my sexuality in deep sleep for a while. So the first thing that hits me like a bomb exploding is all that lively sexy stuff, energy coming at me. It actually made me fear that I would get myself on a sexy trip. And with a person of the same sex yet. I immediately had us do a very strenuous series of outdoor sports that made us literally break out and sweat physically both. I kept it up throughout the three minutes. The surprise so had she. The difference was I had chosen tennis, hiking, rowing, etc., and she rope jumping, hula-hooping, and marbles. I didn't tell her why I had worked us to death. There was fear of shame and embarrassment there for me."
"I had a lot of sexual thoughts which I thought were projections; now I think I was really picking his brain. Nothing else really sticks out at this point (no pun intended). I'm female, he's male."
The sexual response to the imaginal encounter is yet another piece of evidence that the contact experience is very real to the participants. Because of the large group format and the largely introductory nature of the work presented in that context, there has been no effort to follow up with further exploration of the sexual dimension of the contact experience beyond noting its existence. Schwartz-Salant has brought forth the theory that most sexual acting out in therapy may be attributed to a naive response to an unrecognized coniunctio event in the imaginal realm.42 In that regard, I recall one instance where a man telephoned me after a workshop to obtain the phone number of a female participant whom he had as a partner in the imaginal encounter. He was clearly "turned on" and wanted to pursue her. Ethical concerns over sexuality that immediately arise in the context of a psychotherapeutic relationship do not have the same apparent persusasiveness in the context of equals meeting in an educational setting. Rather than emphasizing ethical concerns, I referred to the mistake of confusing levels of experience.
A story I often include in my presentation illuminates the difference between trying to grasp the energy of the encounter for one's own gratification and respecting the energy as a revelation of a mystery. The story is a Native American myth about how the sacred pipe came into the native culture.8
This story teaches that it is foolish to mistake for personal sexual pleasure the energy that beckons from a transpersonal level of existence.
dimension of sexuality in the imaginal encounter is a subject deserving
further study. But by way of supporting some of the intimations put forth
I will note that there is a Eastern tradition of sexuality involving the
In one instance, a visual representation of what happens between adapts
(see Figure 6) very much resembles the drawings made by our participants
(see Figure 7). Suffice it to say, there is great potential for
encountering the numinous in the "space
but the barrier to doing so lies not so much with the intangible quality
of the imaginal as with our reflexive attitudes towards the sexual. The
integration of the sexual and the spiritual is a potential healing
modality of the imaginal. Both belong to the reality of the contact
experience, which this study documents.
The Imaginal Encounter More than "Just"
There is transformative power in two people attending to the imaginal field between them. In the words of Schwartz-Salant, "an individual's access to and faith in the psychic reality of the imaginal world is firmed up."44 I know over five thousand people who would agree with his statement. They are persons who have participated in my workshops on imaginal communication. In these workshops, I guide participants through various experiments in which they silently attend to the experience of imagining being in psychic contact with another person.
I allow this process of silent "communication" to continue for 3 minutes, then I ask the participants to disengage from the contact experience, open their eyes and discuss with their partner what they experienced. I have described their observations from which I concluded that participants experience their contact as real, as intimate, and that they react to this "imagined intimacy" as they would to an actual intimate encounter, with ambivalence, including mixed feelings about experiences of both merger and separation. They also report events happening in the "space in between" that match clinical observations from therapy.
When I ask participants if their discussion with their partners revealed any indication that what they experienced during the imaginal contact was more than "just imagination" the overwhelming majority of their hands fly up amidst a flood of laughter. Their reaction shows that they well understand the irony, and the ambiguity, of the phrase, "just imagination." Everything experienced during the encounter was experienced, of course, via the medium of the participants' psychological imagination. On the other hand, once someone has experienced the feeling of an imaginal encounter and has shared feedback with a partner about the experience, it becomes hard to discount the consensual evidence that there was some kind of actual contact, that it was more than just imagination. Discussion and feedback with a partner confirms what seemed subjectively true during the contact experience--that it was a shared, mutual experience.
I've asked participants to help me find ways to express or validate the reality of the imaginal encounter to those readers who have not yet experienced it for themselves. The result of our collaborative effort toward that goal is presented in this second report.
I have asked participants the question, "What would you say to a person to help them understand that it was more than just imagination?" Here are some of their answers.
The most common answer is that they and their partner experienced the same thing during the silent encounter:
"I had no idea how little I valued and trusted my imagination. Opening up to it felt absolutely expansive and revelatory. It gave me oodles of positive feedback. We not only both imagined having a conversation, but many elements of it were exactly the same - telling each other we liked each other, that we wanted to stay in touch after the training, blessing each other and feeling the same energy I love. We both imagined laughing and playing together (it surprised us both because we had both thought of each other and ourselves as serious before we started). She imagined us romping in a forest swinging on trees and splashing in a brook. I imagined us trying on crazy hats."
The first partner reports, "I sensed lines going between us and it felt like pressurized air. We outstretched our arms and legs and the lines were between us. A sense of not connecting, though, yet meeting in the middle. The lines swirled where they met. Then we took off the top of our heads and a rainbow of energy or light arced between us, and we felt one another through our heads." The second partner reports, "I was thinking about being in the Navy and having port lines, heavy electrical wires to plug into the port from the boat, then dragging the line to meet the socket and having to switch a lot of switches to make the connection. Then I saw a spherical flower, like a Thistle, then my partner's head opened up and I was inside his head, where I saw a sphere of rays going in all directions."
"We both could tell the exact same story except my partner saw colors and I saw in black and white. When the encounter was over she said to me, 'Were we flying?' and I said, 'we sure were.' We compared notes on this and our movements were identical. We were flying in open space doing curves and spins. We shared the same feelings of giggling and joy and fun during the experience. We even took off in the same direction together and verified that afterwards. I felt the rapport between us was intense. To experience life without the earthly limitations and yet my partner seemed to understand all about me and my life as it is right now."
Some partners experience not the same thing, but rather interlocking experiences. Instead of merger, they recognize patterns of resemblance. One person saw a bird and the other person had the experience of flying. They felt that their two experiences interrelated meaningfully. I had not suggested to them that experiencing similar patterns was in itself significant. I downplay that possibility, as well as any other valorizing of other specific contact "highs," in order to make sure that other types of experiences will be respected enough to get reported. Responding to the similarities in their experiences, nevertheless, seems to be a natural thing to do, a reasonable basis for calling an experience that came through a subjective medium an objective perception, because "you saw it too." Similarity of experience is something they expect from being of "one mind."
One partner reports: "Riding horses into a forest, a good feeling, bubbling up, going to a stream, then galloping off again." The second partner reports: "Everything was moving fast, a Chinese pagoda all vibrating, and people streaming out of it, along a wall and up a mountain these people parade. Then I am on a big horse, I fall off and hoards of people are going in many directions, then two big red doors open and admit me and I am back into myself."
One partner reports: "There is Sherwood Forest. We are playing together. Then a space ship comes up with 3 beams. We get beamed up. We are then two pulsating blobs. We get to choose wherever we wish to beam down for a lifetime, then return." The second partner reports: "Children playing, rolling down a hill together and laughing, playing in a hayloft. We jumped and flew from the barn's weathervane, landed and contacted the animals, floating, rolling, and playing in the water."
One partner writes: "Two sheets of wavy energy, then a whirlwind comes and I see a polar bear playing on the ice, going into the ice holes, swimming underneath. A helicopter comes along and they dance together. Close curtain then there they are again on the beach, ballroom dancing in NYC, India and many places. They meet a wise old woman, hag witch, who cast a spell and they repeated this tour as people. Then they lived on a farm." The second partner writes, "The connection felt like a whirlwind, then I saw a face on it. Then I felt like I was sliding on ice where people are ice skating, went into the woods and came out onto a beach, became a kid, in a trench and how cool earthy and womb-like it felt and it was like I was hiding behind my mother's skirt, shy."
This last account invites interpretation on the symbolic level as a means of understanding what is happening between the couple during their imaginal interaction. We can sense the intensity of their coupling and their having to cope with that intensity. There is a "now you see it, now you don't" or peek-a-boo quality to the interaction. The image of ice creates a distinction between conscious and unconscious, and points to the splitting that creates the boundary between the two. The image of the bear and the helicopter make an interesting dancing couple as an embodied mother and sky father of the mind, evoked as the couple oscillate between feeling the sensuality of their contact and escaping into mental rationalizations. The coniunctio lives in such imagery; it need not, perhaps cannot, reveal its presence via explicit images of the hermaphrodite or of mating very often. Usually, the specific images reveal the partners' relation to the coniunctio experience, rather than the coniunctio itself. "When the coniunctio is an active, imaginal experience, both people will share the sense of being alternately pulled together toward fusion, then pulled apart toward separation, while in the realm between them there is a continual sense of unity."45 We must also consider that the commonalities in the partners' accounts suggests a heightened occurrence of synchronicities during contact experiences. These extend to frankly clairvoyant experiences.
Intuitive Insights and Synchronicity
We might expect the partners' imaginal experiences to resemble each other, simply as an extension of the physical mirroring they shared prior to the imaginal contact. On the other hand, the preliminary physical mirroring may have constellated a more significant psychic mirroring.29 Participants were particularly impressed, for example, when one partner had an experience that reflected something significant about the other partner's personal life. For example, it was common for people to report that they had images concerning the inside of the person's house. As the house can be a symbol for the psyche, this seems to be a fitting image. What often happens is that one person has images of the home that correspond to the life details of the other person. They literally "see" the other person's life.
"I described her home accurately, knew she worked in a school, liked to drink red wine and had a sister with three children and a brother. She knew I worked in a high rise building, lived in an apartment, described it rather well, saw a photo of my daughter at 12 or 13 years of age, knew I would need a drink or two if I wanted to be the life of the party."
"My partner picked up on my house layout...the stairs, the mirror, the entrance where the bedroom was; daughter's bedroom; second story, etc. I also saw his apartment, with lots of stereo equipment. He said he had lots of computer equipment. ...I saw him wearing a Canadian uniform. He is a postal clerk."
"My partner saw a room in my house and described it exactly. It is like a secret garden of mineÑit is out of character of the rest of my house and has old, old furniture; lace curtains, dolls and bears in it. In the instance of the secret garden room, I realized she had been able to tap into an area of deep meaning for me, yet not something that I was consciously thinking about."
Participants provided other numerous accounts of seeing something about the other person's biography or personal concerns. Sometimes this type of correspondence would occur without the percipient realizing the significance of the experience.
"I imagined playing with my partner as children at an orphanage. We first sat on the front porch and then we went to play in the back yard. In the backyard we suddenly lifted off the ground holding hands and began to soar through the sky. My partner found this impression quite significant. She recounted to me how after she left her husband and the first night she spent in her own apartment--she had a vivid dream that took place in an orphanage. She was in the backyard with two friends and decided she wanted to touch the leaves on the tops of the trees. She then began to lift off the ground and started soaring through the sky. She said perhaps that I was one of those friends in the dream. We both definitely had a strong feeling of rapport between us."
"I felt a great weight in my partner's heart area, then intense sadness, in the throat. I thought, how can I tell her of this sadness? It might make her sad too. Then I saw a boat on sunny water with a figure on it, moving. The picture receded far, far away with the figure still waving. The person on the shore became less intensely sad although still a little sad. She turned and walked away across a black rocky beach. When I told my partner these things, she kind of blinked. Then she slowly told me that her father was in a nursing home with Alzheimer's and he was failing. So she could relate the sadness and the person moving from a boat which is going farther and farther away. After that we had a good conversation and I felt a rapport. Without the experiment I doubt we would have spoken to each other. How many chances do I miss to get to know someone?"
In these examples, the percipients were unaware that what they were experiencing was related to their partner. They could be extensions of examples reported earlier, in part I of this article, resembling projective identification, where the percipient takes on feelings, or has reactions, which they initially attribute as their own. Here the (counter-transferential) reaction is experienced as a complete fantasy. There are other instances, however, where the information transfer seems to happen in a more self-aware manner and the percipient knows that information about the other is being received. A person will have the experience of "Aha! My partner is....." The receiver consciously experiences the two minds linking-up, knowing that she is knowing something about the partner:
"When I tuned into my partner I somehow felt that she had lost a child in a fire. I don't know how I got this information. I didn't think I should mention it to her; didn't think it was appropriate, but she said something that made me think of it again so I told her and it was true! We then discussed our other impressions and I was really glad that I had shared with her."
"When I tuned into my partner I saw that she was all excited about her wedding plans to a man with tan skin, dark hair, a moustache and short beard with his hair parted definitely on the left side. It turned out that my partner is going with a man who looks exactly like that."
There's yet another interesting phenomenon reported that pertains to the reality of the encounter. Many people report physiological aspects of encountering the "uncanny" fact of being "read" by another person psychically. There are chills along the back, spontaneous crying, etc. upon hearing the partner's experience. One woman, for example, got goose-bumps when her partner described a scene right out of a recent counseling session. Many other participants reported intense emotional reactions to their partner's experience of the encounter.
"With my next partner I experienced a profound sadness and my body began to shiver. I saw her in all white light and she was glowing. I wrapped my arms around her and we began to rise up in the sky. At one point her body was perfectly round, white and glowing. At another point one of us had wings like an angel. I then heard a voice say, ÔGod loves you.' When I related this story to the other woman, she began to cry and then I began to cry. She told me that her mother had had a stroke and was partially paralyzed, bedridden in a nursing home, with no hope of getting better. She said she had asked before we started for some sign from my experience that would help her."
The imaginal encounter allows us to explore the mystery of this transpersonal space and communications within it. In his discussion of the subtle body, Jung describes it as being a reality transcending time and space. He also relates it to pneuma, or spirit as wind.26
"... this is really the old idea of the breath body, the subtle body, which is always represented as bird or ghost, because it is smoke-like and has no weight. It rises out of our course body and floats in the air, like a flying bird or a wreath of smoke."26
It is interesting that some of our participants experienced something akin to a wind blowing in the space between them. This pneumatic wind may be the archetypal basis for the image of the "ether" the imagined medium of travel for light (which physics has determined to be non-existent). It may have a better role as a mental medium.55 As Field points out,
"If we look at the problem of unconscious communication from the standpoint of consciousness we must logically infer some invisible psychic agency that carries the message from one individual to another. Until now no such agency has been identified."14
The etheric conception received expression in the 1700s in the form of animal magnetism. Mesmer popularized the notion of animal magnetism by his demonstrations in public of what he called a fluidic force emanating from the operator that magnetized the subject. This magnetic force, or animal magnetism, was perceived to exist within and around human beings as well as trees and other living things. The detractors to Mesmer's animal magnetism often remarked that the effect could be treated as pure imagination. It is this same imagination, here termed the imaginal, that is the equivalent of the "ether," the medium by which the people are able to have unconscious communication, a transfer of thought and feeling that has the hypnotic power of suggestion. Schwartz-Salant, for example, interprets Jung's remarks on the subtle body to suggest that it may be conceived as the channel of projective identification.45 In many ways does the space between become conceptualized as not truly empty space but "filled" with a medium consisting of some metaphoric substance. Maybe there is no space between.
The Inductive Power of Transpersonal Imagery
may label the imaginal realm in the space "in
as a transpersonal domain. The label points to the objective
dimension within the subjective experience. Participants access the domain
of the "in
through subjective experience--their
their internal impressions prove to have objective referents. What these
participants imagined together was, in short, more than "just
but something that exists in a realm transcending the boundaries of the
individual mind. This is a space that is "me;"
but yet not "exclusively
for there is "you"
in it. There is also something beyond us--a
patterning force at work that is shaping how we experience this. The space
in which the interaction between us occurs is thus best understood as transpersonal.
The transpersonal factor is present when the internal experience of one person becomes functional in the experience of the other person, as in projective identification. In our contact experiment, we have seen a number of cases resembling projective identification, where one person's pain, or personal situation, appears in the other person's imagery. We could view this type of event as an "induction," whereby the person who is the source of the pain somehow causes it to be carried by the other person. In the first part of this article, we posed the question that any subject might well ask of a partner in a contact experiment: what determines whether I will experience your feelings voluntarily and knowingly as an instance of empathy, or trial identification, or whether I will experience them involuntarily and unconsciously as in projective identification? There is a great deal of overlap in the way constructs are used which express our understanding (or lack of it) about the confluence of feelings between the two parties. It is not always made clear that, whatever its defensive or pathological aspects, this is a confluence that can include both synchronistic and telepathic components that are most impressive to the persons involved.15 One approach to exploring this question is to inquire whether or not a person can intentionally induce a certain feeling in another person through an imaginal process. The question takes us into the realm of occult practices as well as into the further shores of parapsychology which continues to be a focus of intense research.
Jung believed that the unconscious of one person acted upon another person through the medium of the subtle body:
"...this most important concept of primitive psychology, the idea of the subtle body which is spirit as well as body. It is the union of the two by this thing in between. And we cannot speak of psychical reality without remembering the fact that the psyche can also have very real effects which are performed through that something which is called 'the subtle body.'"26
Schwartz-Salant refers to the subtle body as an intermediate realm, between the psyche and the body.43 The subtle body is thus a liminal phenomenon, a reality that is perceived through the imagination, a medium of exchange in transpersonal space.
Parapsychological research has identified the imagery-body connection as an important channel of psychic interaction. As one example quite in keeping with the style and content of the current investigation, William Braud tested people's ability to intentionally affect the physiological functioning of others by imagining them in different situations.7 In his experiments on what he called "transpersonal imagery", the two people were in separate rooms. The inductee sat quietly with physiological monitoring devices on the body. The inducer watched a remote monitor displaying signals from these devices for feedback information while attempting to mentally influence the person's physiological functioning. In certain trials the inducer would imagine the other person being excited, and at other times would imagine the other person being very relaxed, in an attempt to alter that person's autonomic functioning in the desired direction. Braud found good evidence that people were indeed capable of achieving this feat. On a few occasions, the inductee experienced imagery that was identical or significantly related to the imagery employed by the inducer. He also made the important discovery that inductees were capable of blocking the effect of the inducer's efforts by the use of images of shields and screens.
At a few of my workshops I have included a similar experiment (but without any electronic monitoring) as a demonstration of the reality of the imaginal encounter. I introduced the experiment as a way of testing the participant's impression that what one person imagined seemed to have an effect on the other person. In these experiments, both persons in a partnership took turns, one person being the inductee and the other person being the inducer. The inductee would function as before, simply making contact with the partner and observing, imaginally, the encounter. The other partner, the inducer, received, however, on the basis of a random draw, a secret assignment to either energize or relax the partner, or sometimes to enter a unique "stealth" mode. These were the secret instructions:
"In the energize mode, imagine doing something energetic and exciting, so that when your partner tunes into you they'll get a boost of energy. In the relax mode, imagine doing something so relaxing and soothing that when your partner tunes in on you, they will have trouble staying awake. In the stealth mode, I want you to disappear, leave, evaporate, cease to exist, or hide, such that when you partner tries to make psychic contact with you, they won't be able to find you, they'll just come upon nothing whatsoever."
I then led them through the contact experience as before, but with separate instructions to the inductee and to the inducer. After a three minute period of silence, I asked them to terminate the encounter and share with each other what they experienced. Then they would reverse roles and try the experiment once again. Afterwards, we discussed it as a group. Here are some reactions:
"Before you even finished talking us through the procedures my neck and shoulders slumped. The relaxation messages were so strong that before the three minutes were up I could barely remain seated in the chair. Sure enough, my partner's task was to relax me."
"I was supposed to energize this man so I visualized him on a trampoline jumping up and down. Then I got on and took his hands and helped him jump higher for good measure. I also took him on a mountain climb, pulling him along and encouraging him to go higher. When I opened my eyes he was panting and said his heart was racing. I have no doubt we made contact but on any other energizing I think that I'll be more careful. I certainly should have asked God's guidance about what would be a proper amount of exercise, or whatever. This was not imagination, it was a physical happening through thought."
"I broke out into a sweat immediately upon making contact with my partner. My partner was in fact trying to energize me by imagining doing some heavy exercise. When we reversed roles, I also got the number to energize my partner. I tried to imagine doing something very energetic but I was still too tired to make much of an effort. In fact, I wanted to leave the workshop to go rest. I tried to focus and tried to energize her and then I would forget, or think about leaving. When we discussed it, my partner said that sometimes she would be able to make contact with me for a moment, but then I would disappear, or it would seem to her like I wasn't there. In fact one time she opened her eyes to see if I was still there or had left. We were dumbfounded at the intensity of the rapport."
Here are some examples from the "stealth" condition:
"My eyes were closed but I saw movement and then blank nothingness. My mind probed and searched and suddenly I saw a wide stream of water. It was flowing fast and then as I searched more all I could see was the water. As I reported my impressions to my partner, she smiled from ear to ear. She explained that she was trying to hide. She said that she wasn't sure if just shutting herself off from me would be enough so since she loved to scuba dive she dove into the water to hide from me."
"Tuning into my partner I felt great amounts of energy coming from her in waves - like a ball. Next I felt that energy under something, like inside a house. On one side was sides of aluminum siding. I could see in my mind's eye the energy reflecting off the siding, I thus told her it was the hiding choice. It was correct. She described her experience as first running around with lots of energy, then realizing she needed to contain it - so she went inside a cave and went deeper so that the light could not come in. It was surprisingly accurate and made me more confident with the process."
Although the examples quoted above are dramatic, the results from these experiments were not uniformly successful, but were quite mixed. When I would ask for a show of hands from those who felt they had been influenced by their partner's imagery, somewhere between a third and a half would so designate. The effect was present, but certainly not in everyone. Compared to other demonstrations, this one was not the most reliable. It did, however, create some occasionally strong effects and often intense affect. Ethical concerns surfaced as well: many people complained that it didn't seem right to influence other people in that way. Some worried that the effects were so powerful that one needed to exercise them with care.
Although it didn't necessarily evoke the best demonstration of skill, the "stealth" mode seemed to create the most interest. The intent of the instruction was to see if we could duplicate reports of people who are "unreachable," who have a "barrier" up or are "not present" or "unavailable." Participants often considered it to be a meaningful challenge to their ability to defend themselves against psychic contamination or invasion, a possibility that was evidently quite real to them. Although I stopped demonstrating using transpersonal imagery as an induction device because of the ambivalence it generated, I believe this particular dimension of the imaginal encounter deserves responsible study.
I eventually found an alternative exercise that was a more constructive use of the transpersonal nature of the imagery, which won a unanimous vote of confidence that the imaginal encounter was more than "just imagination." I will now describe this exercise, which I called "psychic reading."
In their imaginal encounters, synchronicities arose spontaneously, without the participants' intent. We've seen examples where one partner's experience seemed to contain meaningful information about the life of the other partner. To test whether or not this type of event could be produced intentionally, I introduced the role-pair of the "client" and "empath." The client role function was to silently obsess about some distressing personal problem. The role of the other person in the couple, the "empath," was to function exactly as in the training sessions of the imaginal encounter, but now with the added intention of being helpful to the partner. That is, while making contact with the other person and observing that contact through imaginal sight, holding the intention that somehow the experience might later provide the "client" with a helpful perspective on the targeted problem. This procedure is much like that of the therapist using countertransference feelings and imagery as information about the state of the client, or even as the basis for conducting therapy with a silent patient.15, 28
The exact instructions which I gave to initiate the encounter were as follows:
"Close your eyes and relax. I'll direct my first set of instructions to the client person. Client, begin to focus on your concern. Begin to create the scenario of your concern in your imagination as vividly as possible. Continue to imagine being in that scenario, feeling all the feelings involved in your concern as intently as possible, until I give you the signal at the end of the three minute period. In the meantime, I'll direct my next instructions to the empath person.... now, empath person, I want you to become aware of the feeling of the presence of your partner, the client person... with the intention of being helpful, just allow your awareness to expand now until it includes the feeling of being in the presence of your partner... "
The instructions continued in a manner as given earlier for the standard training sessions (see part 1). After a three minute period of silence, I instructed them to return to normal awareness. I instructed the empath person to share what was experienced with the client partner, after which the client was to reveal the area of concern being focussed on and give some feedback. After the partners discussed their experiences, they reversed roles and had another session. Afterwards we would have some sharing and discussion of the results. Some examples are given below:
"I had incredible rapport with my partner. Her neck was sore as were her shoulders. She could feel my frustration about the problem. She sensed my pain also. She picked up on the fact that my husband's partner had committed suicide by overdosing on his heart medication. This was the beginning of our financial difficulties. She had a severe pain in her heart area as she was telepathically listening to me. When I was the empath, I felt drained. My hands and arms felt like I'd been carrying around a ton of bricks. Her problem was centered around her 25-year-old son whom she had been supporting and getting out of trouble for five years. She expressed that she feels like she's been carrying him. I had also seen a bolt of lightening which we identified as her son's anger. There was also a closed door which relates to the fact that she cannot seem to move forward because of her son."
"As the empath, I visualized a little girl in a rural area plucking feathers from a chicken with great sadness. Then she let the chicken go free and she went out into the fields to roam among the grass and wildflowers. She felt the sun energizing her and making her feel happy, she looked up at the sky and made pictures from the clouds. My partner said she was raised on a farm and had to help her mother prepare chickens to be killed for dinner. It was her job. Her problem was that she was in a job she didn't like and wanted to be free of it so she could be outdoors and paint pictures. When I was the client, I concentrated on my healing of sciatica and problems with my neck and shoulders. I have been using a visualization technique using clouds funneling through my body releasing the pain and disease through my toes. My partner sensed something with veins and a block compacted altogether with white clouds clearing it away. We felt a real connection to help us in the resolution of our problems."
Participants were much more comfortable playing the roles of client and empath than they were being an inducer and inductee. There is an important lesson here. The processes involved in the two experiments are quite similar if not identical, but the participants' reaction to them were quite different when the setting is framed as therapy rather than as experimentation. As an "inducer" many participants felt they were being manipulative. As a client, they felt more comfortable, even though many people in the client role wrote that they "sent" their problem to the empath, suggesting an active, "projecting" role. Even though the transmission mechanism may have been similar, an important difference was that they perceived the empath/client partnership to serve a "good" purpose; perhaps this is a sign of how much our culture valorizes the therapeutic.
Again, however, the primary purpose for the demonstration experiment was to introduce an applied criterion to judge whether the imaginal contact was more than "just imagination." In this respect the experiment was clearly successful. When I would ask participants if their partner, when playing the role of the empath, had an experience which seemed meaningfully related to their issue, an overwhelming majority enthusiastically raised their hands. Consistently in this situation people can definitely recognize the imaginal as having some consensual, objective, reality.
The events involved in these imaginal encounters are recognizable to clinicians as examples of unconscious communication, but they are also suggestive of parapsychological interaction. Are the two people experiencing, for example, a telepathic connection? The word, telepathy, is rooted in the spatial metaphor of disance (tele--at a distance; pathos--feeling). We tend not to think of the face to face encounter as being one in which telepathic considerations, occult transfer of feeling, need apply. We might suppose that the fantasies the partners have can be merely elaborations of the initial impressions made upon meeting. To prevent just this sort of confounding of available channels of communication, most parapsychological experiments do not allow sensory contact among the participants. We have to ask, what would it be like to have an imaginal encounter with an invisible, unknown partner?
A relevant precedent from parapsychological research involves two people separately undergoing hypnotic induction. One person is asked to "dream" about a particular topic and the fantasy is recorded. In another room, a second subject is hypnotized and asked to dream about anything whatsoever that might come to mind. This procedure has demonstrated that one person's hypnotic reverie can influence the content of the hypnotic reverie of another subject. This is rather strong evidence from parapsychological research for telepathic influence between persons not consciously relating to each other.36 To see if this result could obtain in the imaginal encounter, I varied my usual procedure. I called it "Invisible Partners" because the participants did not know the identity of their partner at the time of the encounter.
The context was my seminars on Jungian psychology. Students were familiar with the imaginal realm and had practiced the exercise of the basic imaginal encounter. They had come to trust their imagery and were thus "more sensitive" observers. To create an invisible partnership situation, I arranged pairs of chairs facing each other in different parts of the room. I had the students close their eyes and I led each student to a different chair. We then conducted the contact experience in the usual way. The only difference was that the participants had no opportunity to make initial sensory contact with their partner or even to know the identity of the partner. All they knew was that the partner was located about twelve inches away. The goal of the experience was to observe the interaction in the "space between" but not to otherwise attempt any influence on the partner. At the end of the three minute period of silence, I asked them to keep their eyes closed and I led them individually back to our seminar table. When all had returned, I instructed them to open their eyes and write a description of what they experienced. When they were finished, they read their descriptions aloud to the group. Although the partners were not yet identified, when the reports were read aloud, the correspondences observed were quite dramatic, allowing the students to easily correctly identify and match the pairs:
One person wrote: "My body is full of warmth, a flush on my face and arms, as the other person comes closer. Then the entire area between us was warmed and glowing. Then the sensation of rippling waters, the interface between ripples and pops and flashes. The force fields touch and mingle as white water, the flush comes back in my forearms, but only momentarily as the ice cold stream water overcomes the warmth like sun glows, but immediately I realize that the mechanical energy of the water more than makes up for the drop in temperature and the energy in the system increases. Then I see clapping hands. My hands and the other hands clapping and then holding, taking turns, one the container and the other the contained, taking turns one holding and one being held." The person who was the partner wrote, "I began to feel a little seasick, I felt my head spinning like the feeling when you have too much to drink and the room spins. Our energies are mingling. I see the rays of energy crossing over, criss-crossing."
One person wrote, "As I moved outward I felt as though I was in protective shell like a plastic wrap. As we first touched I seemed to overpower and slide around the other person, yet not breaking into their force field. Then the protective layer touched the other with what seemed to be a bit of energy between the two. As I reentered I felt a surge of energy which made me somewhat faint and light headed. Finally I felt overpowered and a sense of electricity passing between usÑnot a handshake--but an exchange of energy." The partner wrote, "I first felt a hand on my face, a reassuring touch as a mother would hold her child's face. Then we hugged, a greeting between friends. I had to resist opening my eyes. Then we gazed into one another's faces, totally accepting one another, the peace and warmth remain with me now."
It seems remarkable that pairs of people could meaningfully interact in an imaginal encounter with no more information about the identity of the partner other than that the person was sitting twelve inches in front. There was no conscious basis for the interaction between them other than the intention that the spatially designated partners focus their attention in that direction. Parapsychological research on "remote viewing" has shown that individuals can obtain information about the contents at a location given information only about the geographical location of that spot. Our imaginal encounter with "invisible" partners begs for a referent or associated context by which to interpret its significance. However it is to be interpreted, it is apparent that these observers can experience the space between themselves and their partners as a place to interact and that they experienced this space similarly.
In earlier experiments I had observed the image of the "two actors," i.e., the pair, in participants' reports of their imaginal encounter. I speculated that it was related to Schwartz-Salant's observation that the imaginal couple is the archetypal image of this coming together in the space between. Although this image is not always present in the participants' reports, it nevertheless might function as a constellating image, a way of reckoning with the events in the transpersonal zone. If a metaphor helps us to see what we otherwise might not notice, perhaps the use of the image of the "couple" might help participants perceive events in the imaginal encounter that they might otherwise overlook.
To the students in my Jung seminar I presented yet another experiment. I gave them instructions to focus their experience of the interaction through images concerning a pair. They could use any image of a pair or a couple or twosome that came to mind--whether it be two animals, two people, two things--as long as they observed what happened between these two. I introduced this experiment as a variant on invisible partners. Again the people did not know the identity of their partner. They were to sit in silence, reaching forward in their minds until they imagined making contact with the other person, and then to sit there for three minutes and notice what it felt like to be in contact with the person, "as if a pair of somethings were doing or experiencing something together.". Afterwards, I led them back to the seminar table where they wrote down their experiences and then we discussed them. The results, again, were quite dramatic, providing much more definitive indications of synchronistic or telepathic exchange and more evidence of interactions or exchanges in the imaginal zone.
One person wrote, "it was like a scene from Star Wars and there was this furry little animal creature, ugly. It was talking to another furry creature that had arms and legs but no eyes--it was an egg shape. The larger one was talking to the egg-shaped one by gesturing and there was a lot of love passing between them. There was some concern about how the eyeless one could walk around without being able to see. The larger one was talking to the eyeless one and taking it on a walk while gesturing. It was like talking to a crippled person--or someone who had a stroke, talking in a special tone so that they might understand." The partner wrote, "I was having trouble visualizing and felt lost. All I saw were two ovals, or two egg shapes. They were moving around one another."
The students immediately recognized that the second person's description of the two egg shapes moving around one another fit very much like the description the first person gave of these two creatures who were walking about. Furthermore, it seemed as if the first person was saying to the second, "I know you feel that you cannot visualize, nevertheless, we can still move about together. I can talk to you regardless and we can still move even though you feel you cannot see." As it turns out, the second person's visualization was very much in keeping with that envisioned by the first person: although she may feel that she is blind, she sees quite well.
Here is another example:
One person wrote, "There were two trees. There were no leaves but their branches were touching. And as the wind blew in them they touched and rubbed branches. Then I saw two horses--a male and a female--suddenly only the female horse remained and the male horse had vanished. Then I saw two dots of light moving about one another. There was the experience or the voice saying, 'I am here, you are here, but we are together.'" The second person wrote, "I was at the edge of woods and there was a lake. There was a male standing on edge of the water. There was a woman glowing beneath the water and she comes up out of the water and the water pours over him as he then steps into the water. Then I am in the water myself and become the part of the man. The man comes up and the lighted woman skims across the lake and they become as two fireflies flying around, doing a dance. They make a strange pattern in their dancing, like eggs rolling. Then they become snakes, twining around one another, happy, going up, burrowing down into the grass, coming up and around the trees, teasing one another, moving again toward the water."
The image of two entwined snakes coming up and around a tree extends Schwartz-Salant's observations on the coniunctio from the more specific alchemical image of the integration of male and female components to the more general image of the creativity of the generative force in life itself. The caduceus10 is a symbol that portrays the energy of the life force as existing in the tension of the opposites, the polarity of opposing states, suggesting that the "space between" is an arena for observing this tension. The entwining snakes moving up a tree echoes the image of "Kundalini" yoga, of the psychic energy released during meditation. Our experiment suggests that this energy might not reside solely within an individual, but in the space between persons as well.
The general paradigm described here seems to have demonstrated its fertility as an avenue for research. There are many by-paths that deserve further exploration. For example, there are at least two major differences between the experiments described here and the context of the reports of Schwartz-Salant and other clinicians who have described their contacts in the imaginal zone with their patients. First, in my experiments, the people are mostly strangers, and have little invested in the relationship, whereas the therapy situation has a more invested relationship foundation. The fact that our procedure could permit strangers nevertheless to validate the consensual reality of the imaginal speaks strongly for the reality of this space. It is remarkable that it can be utilized to the extent it was in this relatively limited, secular setting. Although people in the workshops have surprised themselves by how close and intimate they became with a stranger in three minutes of silence, nevertheless there are subtle limits on the extent to which that instant, "synthetic intimacy" could be utilized for any in-depth interaction. Whereas Schwartz-Salant has conceptualized the substance of the imaginal encounter in the therapy relationship as a sacred, healing alchemical elixir of life, my workshop demonstrations offer much the same substance for sampling as if at a wine tasting event.
A second difference is that, in the case of the dialogic therapy encounter, the therapist and patient are often able to discuss their imaginal encounter as it is occurring. In the experiments reported, the encounter took place in silence and the discussion was after the fact. I have begun to address these differences in two lines of further research.
In one type of experiment, I am working with trained observers who are directed to have an imaginal encounter while simultaneously discussing it. There is a precedence for this kind of arrangement within the parapsychological literature on hypnosis. "Mutual hypnosis" was a term invented by Charles Tart to describe a procedure he explored briefly48. He asked people in pairs to give hypnotic induction suggestions to one another. They exchanged hypnotic suggestions, forming a mutual induction loop. As they began to achieve a certain level of hypnotic depth, one person began to suggest a journey or an adventure that they were to go on together. At the point that each person was describing the events of the journey, they stopped talking. They were silent for several minutes, while Tart observed. When Tart retrieved them from the hypnotic state, their reports of what happened were quite similar, suggesting a parapsychological interaction. Tart noted that the experience was quite bonding for the two participants, who felt that they had become intimate friends during their hypnotic journey.
I have modified Tart's procedure in keeping with our exploration of the imaginal encounter. I do not mention the words hypnosis or suggestion to the participants. Rather, I use terms from the domain of intimacy: confide, listen, and rapport. I instruct the pairs to establish contact as before, but then I add an additional step. The partners take turns initiating a verbal exchange. The initiating partner confides. The confider simply shares what is being experienced. The other partner listens. The listener imagines in an empathic way what it might be like to experience what the confidant is describing and reflects (mirrors) back to the confidant how they are imagining that experience. That exchange creates a moment of rapport. Then the other partner takes a turn at confiding what is being experienced and the other person listens and reflects back, creating another moment of rapport. This structured sharing resembles the exchange between therapist and client, although here we have mutual disclosures that are not common in therapy, except, for example, in those instances reported by Schwartz-Salant where he and his client are exploring their imaginal encounter. I instruct the pairs that after several rounds of the confiding- reflecting- rapport sequence, they may then slip into a period of silence to continue their encounter totally within the imaginal realm. At the end of the period of silence they emerge from the encounter and share what they experienced during the quiet period. The feedback I have received from initial experiments is that the process becomes a deep experience of intimacy for the participants. The words and images that they use to describe the events during the silent period involve such metaphors as energize, raising of energy, energized semi-matter, protoplasm, plasma, out of body, spiraling upwards motion, propelling, gushing upwards, and other terms suggestive of a force involving an energy with a felt substantial quality that had the tendency to lift them up into a space beyond themselves. Their descriptions can be compared with Schwartz-Salant's description of a "lifting" sensation he has experienced from the energy that is released in the imaginal encounter.42 My impression is that the experience is a bit overwhelming for the participants and that their enthusiasm, although genuine, is also a symptom of their not being able to "contain themselves" in an experience that releases tremendous kindred spirit libido joy. Supplementary procedures are needed which will enable participants to remain calm and grounded while they simultaneously explore the effects of this mutual feedback process in the imaginal realm.
In another variant, I have had people attempt the imaginal encounter at a distance but on a regular basis. Schwartz-Salant mentioned that he could establish it over the phone.
"The coniunctio can also be experienced without a direct, face-to-face encounter. Two people may experience a kind of current flowing between them, a flow with more than erotic quality, even during a telephone hour."42
In my variation, pairs practice the imaginal encounter from their homes. Each day at the same time, the person sits down and practices making psychic contact with the partner for a brief period, knowing that the partner is simultaneously doing likewise. The participants keep a record of what transpires during the period of contact. Once a week the partners call on the phone to discuss their experiences of that week. At the end of a month, I ask them to send me a copy of their diary. This experiment has many logistical challenges, but has proven quite provocative. They report many examples of synchronicity, of knowing what is going on for the other person. Sometimes their curiosity about what is happening with the other person becomes more prominent than their interest in the events "in between" them, perhaps because of the distance involved. I have also discovered that their interaction brings to the surface important issues that they have in common, issues which they normally would not discuss with anyone. We observed and reported a milder form of this phenomenon in the one-day workshop. In the long-term experiment, however, just as in psychotherapy, deeper levels of mutual complexes appear and are of such an intimate nature that I am finding it a sensitive issue to have the participants disclose to me the details of what they experienced. They report tremendous bonding, the implications of which is that they feel more committed to maintaining the intimacy than sharing with me. Although that is frustrating from a research point of view, I believe it is a significant diagnostic indicator of the level of sharing that this procedure initiates.
final avenue of investigation involves an attempt to recognize individual
differences. Tempermental variations must certainly play a role in people's
sensitivity to perceiving the imaginal. Typology in Jung's
sense would also play a role in variations in the "chemistry"
people experience with different partners. As an initial foray into this
domain, I arranged in one of my Jungian seminars for each student to have
an imaginal encounter with every other student. We had one pairing each
class until, by the end of the semester, we had written records of all
pairings. We did not use the Myers-Briggs inventory, but, taking a lead
experiment in synchronicity involving astrological profiles of married
calculated the horoscopes of the students. For each student pair we
calculated how many planets were in conjunction, that is, located in
identical positions along the 360 degree horoscope wheel. When we compared
those student pairs who had the most number of conjunctions with those who
had the fewest, we found obvious differences in the reports of their
imaginal encounters. Those with many conjunctions had unusually detailed
and energetic imaginal encounters with evidence of synchronicities. Those
with no conjunctions had more the average type of imaginal encounter. The
suggestion was that when people had energies in common, they could
experience that commonality during the encounter. Individual differences
certainly seems to be a fruitful avenue of exploration, having some
important contributions to what kind of reaction happens in the space
Reflections on The Imaginal Encounter in Transpersonal Space
The purpose of this investigation has been to extend certain clinical observations into a more general framework. The initiating question was, "Can people use imaginal sight to perceive events occurring in the space between them?" My research convinces me that the answer to this question is an unqualified yes. The demonstration experiments revealed that participants find the imaginal encounter to be real and react to it accordingly. They observe and report events in the encounter to lend credibility to the proposition that although it occurs in an intersubjective, imaginal realm, the encounter has consensual validity. The sharing of what they see draws the partners closer together. The imaginal encounter thus proves its usefulness and its meaningfulness. It also serves a very practical purpose, for it facilitates rapport. The participants believe they know one another at a deeper level than mere acquaintanceship: they feel bonded. This effect alone would make the imaginal encounter worthy of exploration in relationships, in and out of therapy.
The participants also observe that what one partner experiences has an influence on the other partner. They are able to address the imaginal realm intentionally to obtain helpful information for their partner. Reports of interlocking experiences suggest that the partners are actually interacting with each other in the imaginal realm, in a manner that straddles what therapists have called "unconscious communication" and parapsychologists have called "telepathy" or "thought transference."
Field proposed a solution to the enigma of such information exchanges:
"Now it may be that we have to grapple with the mystery of how a feeling can be projected from one psyche into another because we are operating with an inadequate model....we are faced with the problem of transmission only if the two parties involved are deemed separate entities to begin with. If, at the unconscious level, they are already merged, no transfer is required, in so far as in the state of merger what happens to one happens to the other."14
Perhaps it works in a different way, through a form of sympathetic vibration. Indeed, as an alternative formulation, Field calls projective identification a form of "flowing in harmony."14 Consider Schwartz-Salant's version of the medium of communication:
"The coniunctio field has an acausal dynamic that transmits over a distance, a phenomenon linked in occult literature to communication on the astral plane, something one can grasp as an aspect of information transfer through the unus mundus. This communicative experience may also be seen as linking through projective and counter-projective identification, a mutual Ôfeeling-into' experience that bridges the limitations of space and time."44
Recalling the Greek vision of the sympathetic vibration uniting creation, there may be an image that expresses resonance without the implication of merger. In a symphonic chord, the various instruments maintain their identity even as they harmonize. Yet their resonance produces effects that are more than the sum of the parts. In a period of history intermediate between the belief in Mesmer's etheric fluid and the coining of the term, "hypnosis," to mean a state of hyper-suggestibility, the condition that came to exist between hypnotist and subject was termed, "rapport." Investigators observed what we would call today telepathic thought transference between people in this state of rapport. Some theorists gave the opinion that in that state of (hypnotic) rapport, the brains of the two people vibrated in resonance.12 Here was theory and observation wedded in the Greek vision of cosmic sympathy, a symphonic Unus Mundus.33 As it happens, there is some evidence that engaging in behaviors similar to the imaginal encounter creates a resonance at the level of brain activity and that this synchronization facilitates telepathy between partners. In one laboratory, for example, when subjects sitting in close proximity in a darkened room were asked to attempt direct mind to mind communication, their brain wave patterns became synchronized.16, 17 In another laboratory, the ability of pairs of subjects to achieve brain wave synchronization was correlated with their measured ability to communicate telepathically.34, 35 Thus it would appear that extensions of the vibrational harmony metaphor may have some relevance for unconscious communication. Merger may not necessarily play a dominant role in this form of information transfer.
Based on my own experience practicing the imaginal encounter, I believe there is a three-phase process. First there is the initial phase of establishing contact. Here there may be some rote experiences or ritual images reflecting the awareness that a contact has been established: images of light, or warmth, the flowing of the wind, and other such energetic images suggestive of fantasies of merger or interpenetration. This initial period dissolves into a slight loss of consciousness, or a period of mild dissociation or self-forgetfulness, or lapse of attention toward the space between. I would call this period an in between time, a period of chaos and unpredictability. When I recollect myself, and recall that I am in the encounter, I realize that a daydream is already underway. It is during this third period that I witness a narrative fantasy or experience the "couple." I believe that the period of dissociation, the in between time of chaos is the creative period when the tension between the experience of being separate and the experience of being merged resolves itself into the coniunctio.
Chaos theory might well prove appropriate to discussing the intermediate period, when images shift metaphorical categories, making a paradigm shift as it were, from spatial metaphors involving energy exchanges to narrative fantasies of the couple. In writing about the relevance of chaos theory to Jungian psychology, Van Eenwyk stated that the necessary and sufficient condition for the activity of chaos was an iterative, recursive, self-referential situation, or "self-reinforcing [feedback] loops."50
The imaginal encounter satisfies the condition of being such a recursive, self-reflecting feedback loop. In the encounter as I have experimentally operationalized it, a person sits quietly and is aware, "I imagine that you imagine that I am imagining you imagining me imagining you...." Not only is each individual experiencing such an recursive loop at the phenomenological level, our evidence also suggests that each partner's internal, subjective experience has an effect upon the other partner's internal subjective experience, so that the conditions for an self-reflexive loop also obtain at the objective level.
Van Eenwyk specifies that one characteristic of a chaotic system is that the end result of the iterative loop is highly unpredictable. Specifically, a slight variation in the initial condition will result in extreme variations in the end-state condition. That same characteristic holds for the imaginal encounter. The participants' expectations, subtle suggestions, and slight changes in their intentions creates major changes in what is experienced.
What determines the outcome? When two people engage in the imaginal encounter, what determines whether one partner or the other will assume the role of sender, or inducer, with the other person taking the role of receiver or inductee? If they are mutually inducting experiences in each other, then how does this self-referencing, recursive loop resolve itself? Chaos theory uses the term "attractor" to describe patterns that characterize the end-state. Van Eenwyk has proposed that Jung's concepts of the complex and the archetypes that govern them function like "strange attractors," or pattern templates that never manifest themselves but which appear to be the origin of the infinitely varied and never repeating specific patterns observed. Van Eenwyk proposes that the situation of the interaction between analyst and analysand is one most resembling chaos theory. He refers to Meier's characterization of the transference-countertransference process as "two systems interfering"32 as essentially a characterization of a chaotic system governed by attractors.
Applying this theory to our face to face imaginal encounter, where we are dealing with the question of how it happens that the two parties sometimes manifest synchronicities (whether that be in the form we call empathy, projective identification, unconscious communication or telepathy-thought transference), we can suggest that the psyche, objectively containing the two parties, has a role to play, via the attractor role of the archetypes. There is the sensitive initial condition of the intention of the two parties: to cooperate, to achieve closeness, to heal and be healed, to be effective and to be dependent.18 There is also their individual propensity to manifest these archetypal patterns in their experience, or, in effect, their individual inventories of complexes that are more or less activated in the situation. There is the tension of the opposites and the opposing tendency toward integration or fusion, reconciled by some specific patterning of the coniunctio archetype. Depending upon the initial intention, and whose motive is the stronger, the attractor role of the archetype will fashion that person's experience, whose specific complex-driven manifestation will serve as a resonance pattern for the other person's experience. No psychic material is transplanted from one person to the other, but rather, one person's experience synchronistically "reminds" the other person of something similar. It is a sympathetic evocation. This metaphor is similar to Mahlberg's characterization of how collective memory can influence an individual's learning curve, through a resonance effect.31
In his descriptions of the occurrence of the imaginal encounter during the analytic hour, Schwartz-Salant has expressed anxiety that the average clinician would respond to the hypothesis of the realm of the imaginal encounter as either too "occult," or without practical significance, or too fraught with the dangers of transference exploitation. The experiment here described seems to rescue the phenomenon from mystifying occultism, placing it in an arena that is observable and more accessible to all. Many of these observations nevertheless replicate those of analytical psychotherapy, including even the imagery of the coniunctio. The experiment thus seems useful for demonstrating the utility of the imagination as a perceptual tool for exploring the "space between." For the general public, in addition, the experiment forces a re-evaluation of the appropriateness of addressing the imagination with the diminutive title, "just."
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